A shot in the dark

Idealist: James McAvoy plays the defence lawyer in Redford's new flick.
Idealist: James McAvoy plays the defence lawyer in Redford's new flick.

The Conspirator (12A)

Starring: James McAvoy, Robin Wright, Tom Wilkinson, Danny Huston, Evan Rachel Wood, Alexis Bledel, Justin Long, Colm Meaney, Kevin Kline, Johnny Simmons, Toby Kebbell, Jeremy Paul Tuttle, John Michael Weatherly, Marcus Hester, Norman Reedus.

Director: Robert Redford.

Running time: 123 mins.

ON APRIL 14, 1865, John Wilkes Booth assassinated the 16th president of the United States, Abraham Lincoln, as part of a far-reaching conspiracy.

That same night, Lewis Payne stabbed secretary of state William H Seward and an attempt to kill vice president Andrew Johnson failed because would-be assassin, George Atzerodt, lost his nerve.

The murder of Lincoln shocked the war-torn nation just as the Confederacy was preparing to surrender to the Union.

Director Robert Redford chronicles the aftermath of the shooting in this historical courtroom drama.

Following the assassination, John Wilkes Booth (Kebbell) is hunted down with his co-conspirators.

Police also arrest Mary Surratt (Wright), who owns the boarding house where the men concocted their heinous plan.

Idealistic lawyer Frederick Aiken (McAvoy), a protege of southern senator Reverdy Johnson (Wilkinson), is hired to defend Surratt.

As the tribunal unfolds, it becomes clear that the odds are unfairly stacked against Surratt and she is being used to flush her boy out of hiding.

The inevitability of the final verdict, laid down in the history books, dissipates some of the suspense but Redford is seemingly unconcerned about generating any dramatic momentum.

Rating: HHHII