Saturday, April 27, 2013

What's Next On My List? The Conspirator

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First of all, I know I said I wouldn't be able to write any time soon - but I have found about 40 free minutes, so be happy! Second, I also promised the next entry to be Wreck-It Ralph. Now, I wanted to write about that because it is an awesome movie, but it is also directed to one type of audience. By that I mean that most of my readers are my Hungarian friends for whom such stories don't have the same depth because it contains things that they did not grow up with. An easy example would be my brother, who was about 12 when we lived in the US and he grew up on games that are portrayed in it - meaning he got each and every joke. I am a bit worried that those who I know read my stuff won't enjoy it as much. Either way, I will talk about it later on, but now I wanted to quickly cover a movie from a complete different genre.

This semester I have a total amount of two useful classes, one of them is a lecture by the name of USA History 1. Just a couple of weeks ago we covered the Civil War and the very first thing that popped into my mind was this movie, after the teacher mentioned that we should check out Spielberg's Lincoln (2012).
But that is not the only reason why I am writing about it. After seeing it I checked out a couple of comments on imdb and I realized that many people didn't get what the movie was about at all! And that bothered me a lot, because I am a big fan of Robert Redford as a director, so I would like to tell everyone (reading) what my interpretation of the movie was.

The story is set after the Civil War, we begin with President Abraham Lincoln being shot by John Wilkes Booth. During the night, many of his accomplices are arrested, among them Mary Surratt, the mother of one of the supposed conspirators on the President's life. She is charged with being part of the conspiracy, as her son and his friends discussed the assassination of the President, the Secretary of State and the Vice-President in her home.
A lawyer, a soldier in the war, Frederick Aiken is assigned as her defense. The movie plays a bit with the viewer, as it is one of those historical happenings that we were never able to prove properly. Surratt claims that she didn't know, but the viewer and her lawyer both must ask themselves how could she not? Things complicate when Aiken starts to believe that she isn't guilty, but it seems that the government is keen on putting her away just the same. All this with the excuse of giving people the vengeance they need for losing their President. Although Aiken seems to be able to get her a simple sentence and a chance to be given a fair trial. However, at the last minute she is charged either way and is hanged.

Now, the key words I've mentioned above are the basis of the movie: Give people a fair trial. (And with a jury, something that is also included in the Bill of Rights!) Historical movies can always be taken ambiguously, mostly because there are two sides to every story, especially if we don't have every single fact proven for sure. I will agree that the movie portrays the government as a bit of a bad guy, in comparison to the lady. But people were offended that she is portrayed as victim. Yet, when you think about it, she is: On one side her son just planned to kill the President. On another, she has never been given a chance to prove her innocence. Her son is missing and they simply needed to convict someone and she was the easiest target. At the end of the movie there is even mention of her son being arrested later on, but then let go because of insufficient evidence - or as far as I am concerned, they just simply didn't care anymore. She died, in the end, for nothing really as her being guilty was never properly proven, even though they knew her son was a conspirator. Yet, the lack of evidence didn't seem to be a problem when somebody had to be blamed.
What is wonderful about the movie is not really that you feel bad about Mary Surratt, or that you want vengeance and you agree with governments approach of the whole story. It is actually how much you are able to follow and care for the main character: Frederick Aiken. He too begins this trial believing that the person he is supposed to protect is guilty. Gradually he becomes suspicious and starts to believe her. This isn't necessarily brought on because she is miserable (and she is as we reach toward the end of the film), but because he starts to see that the whole trial is just an excuse. An excuse to give people what they want that is - seeing for example a current problem with the VP Andrew Johnson taking over and he was not a big favorite (I would like to say here, that I learned a lot about Johnson in my classes, and I very much wish to shine my knowledge, but I won't right now because it isn't important as far as the review goes). So not only it was a means of avoiding further conflict, but it also it gave sense of justice to the public. It pretty much taught the lesson that if you behave badly, there will be consequences and you cannot run from them (of course, unless you are Mary Surratt's son!).
So, all in all the most compelling about the movie was Aiken's struggle to make sure his client is given what she deserves, and in the end, she was not. Based on the reviews and comments I have read, people blamed Redford for making a murderer look like a victim. That comment is definitely arguable. First of all, whether or not you view Surratt as a victim is entirely up to the viewer. She of course lives in a prison throughout the trial! It isn't hard to feel bad for her. But in the end, there are also indications that she might be just faking her ignorance of the obvious facts. I believe that there is a very fine line between the two ends and Redford worked with them perfectly. The comment that I mentioned above is typical of people who are way too much nationalists and don't actually realize when somebody isn't trying to hurt their feelings but talk to them like civilized adults.

Let alone the fact that James McAvoy looks really sexy in this movie, it is also very enjoyable for anyone who likes crime or historical movies is going to be a big fan of this film. Keep in mind that it will leave you with questions and although many hard facts are given, still, as I mentioned above, there is an ambiguity to each character and each motivation. Not to mention the evidences brought up in trial and how Aiken shifts from the offensive to the defensive - even at the cost of his friends and his good name for protecting an alleged conspirator.

So, did I make you interested? I hope I did. I always love these kind of movies that give you reason to look up the actual history behind it. Another one of these for me was The Iron Lady (click here to read my review!), or The Other Boleyn Girl - which was presented from just one side of the three main characters and was also in big part completely fiction. But that is not bad in the sense that it made the viewer curious enough to read, do research and learn as much as they can about the source material. Now, that coming from me, who hates history as a whole, not to mention classes and lessons (for the exception of this awesome lecture!) - saying that it made me curious enough to read up on them is very big! (I also hate reading xD - I'm big on writing!)

Coming up, I need to watch a couple of movies for my exams. Among them a few classics - that I don't want to reveal because if I can't or don't want to write about them, I would feel weird about having mentioned them beforehand. What I am looking for and I do want to write about is Lincoln (2013), so even if not the next, but that review is shortly coming up! Stay tuned!
_ _ _ _ _ _ _

Frederick Aiken - James McAvoy
Mary Surratt - Robin Wright
Edwin Stanton - Kevin Kline
Anna Surratt - Evan Rachel Wood
Reverdy Johnson - Tom Wilkinson
Nicholas Baker - Justin Long
Joseph Holt - Danny Huston
Sarah Weston - Alexis Bledel
John Surratt - Johnny Simmons
John Wilkes Booth - Toby Kebbell

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