Grae's currently on vacation in an exotic land until the end of April. Subbing for her is fellow MDC writer Alonso Duralde. Follow him on Twitter at @ADuralde.
Who's In It: James McAvoy, Robin Wright, Kevin Kline, Evan Rachel Wood, Tom Wilkinson, Justin Long, Danny Huston, Alexis Bledel, Colm Meaney.
The Basics: Frederick Aiken (McAvoy), a young attorney and Civil War veteran (for the Union side) is tasked with defending boarding-house keeper Mary Surratt (Wright), the only woman among the group of accused conspirators in the plot to assassinate President Abraham Lincoln. Secretary of War Edwin Stanton (Kline), feeling that the fragile, war-weary Union needs a speedy resolution to the proceedings, stacks the deck by trying the conspirators in military court and suspending many of their rights to a fair trial. Aiken plods along with the case, knowing the odds are against him and over the objection of his fiancée (Bledel) and peers, in the hopes that he can spare his client from the gallows.
What's The Deal: It's like someone handed screenwriter James D. Solomon and director Robert Redford a gong marked "Guantanamo Bay" so they could strike it over and over for two hours. And yes, the parallels between the current strain of anti-Muslim hysteria (and the government's willingness to throw the Constitution out the window for political expediency) and these true events of the late 19th century are interesting, but a narrative film can't just be about history repeating itself. You need three-dimensional characters and a compelling story. Instead, we get stick figures (they should just wear placards that say "Concerned," "Stoic," "Best Friend," "Devious," and the like) and a not-particularly-compelling courtroom drama. Redford has assembled a fine cast of actors, but they've been given nothing to do.
Mr. Redford, I Have Western Union On Line One: This makes two movies in a row where director Redford climbs on a soapbox and lectures his audience -- remember Lions for Lambs and its lengthy diatribes about the war in Afghanistan? Even if you agree with Mr. Redford's political opinions, it doesn't make these polemic, droning movies any more fun to watch. His activism work off-screen on behalf of the environment and other causes close to his heart is unimpeachable, but when he brings those interests to work, the results tend to be preachy and screechy.
Is That A Mustache, Or Did You Have Anchovies For Lunch?: Don't be surprised if you can't tear your eyes away from Justin Long's mustache -- it has to rank as one of the fakest-looking pieces of facial hair in the history of cinema. Most of the rest of the performers, however, bear their muttonchops well; in fact, don't be surprised if you don't recognize young actors like Johnny Simmons ("Young Neil" from Scott Pilgrim vs. the World), Jonathan Groff (Glee), and Norman Reedus (The Boondock Saints) under all that fuzz.