Redford’s The Conspirator centers on the real-life trial of one apparent plotter of the Lincoln assassination, Mary Surratt, accused of providing shooter John Wilkes Booth and his accomplices with a location to plan their conspiracy (her boardinghouse) and with other assistance. Mary, who “kept the nest that hatched the egg,” as Andrew Johnson put it, ended up being the first woman ever executed by the U.S. government.
But that movie is less about Mary Surratt’s guilt or innocence and more about putting George W. Bush on trial. Time’s Richard Corliss hit upon the comparison The Conspirator draws between the government’s actions immediately after the Lincoln shooting “and the Bush Administration’s actions in the months and years after the events of Sept. 11, 2001.”:
In this movie, [Secretary of War Edwin] Stanton is the stand-in for Dick Cheney and Donald Rumsfeld; he proposes lurid theories of revolution and, when challenged, replies, “Who’s to say these things couldn’t happen?” In a direct parallel to the Bush administration’s invasion of Iraq as a crowd-pleasing alternative to the fruitless search for Osama bin Laden, one Surratt sympathizer says that Stanton & Co. are trying Mary “because they can’t find John [her son, who temporarily escaped].”
Redford himself was cagey about discussing the parallel, but half-hinted, half-confessed that the movie “relates very much to the present, but it’s up to the audience to decide for themselves how.”
The Sundance founder’s previous directing effort was in 2007, the talky anti-war bore Lions for Lambs, starring Redford himself, Tom Cruise and Meryl Streep. Redford plays an activist professor who is appalled when two of his promising students decide to enlist and fight in Afghanistan instead of staying here to undermine the war effort by protesting on campus. When the two die alone on an Afghan plain, the message is that their patriotic choice was a waste and their lives could have been better spent at home (perhaps interning at Sundance or with Code Pink). Meryl Streep plays an openly left-leaning journalist who is cynical about American hubris, which is personified by Tom Cruise’s parody of a warmongering Republican senator. She weeps when she is driven past the headstones of a military cemetery.
Like Streep’s character, Hollywood mourns our troops but rarely acknowledges that war is sometimes necessary, that fighting for your country and your way of life is honorable, that evil exists and that this country is a force for good in the world. Instead, Hollywood more often undermines our war effort (including the war on terror), glorifies reprobates like Ché, and – as we can expect in Robert Redford’s upcoming movie – excuses the terrorists of the Weather Underground.
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