Grae's Rating:

2.5

Sic semper bore-annis.

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.

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Comments (6)

Don Swedo - 4-17-2011 5:23 PM
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if you love history you will love this movie . I was fortunate enough to watch this movie in New York at a special screening . Present were all the historian's involved in the making of this movie . After the movie they formed a panel on the stage and answered many questions from the audience . I can assure you that there are no political undertones in this movie . It was a breath of fresh air . Finally someone had the guts to show real life is truly more fascinating then fiction . the acting was incredible,

Thomas Jackson - 4-17-2011 6:31 PM
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This movie would have played out the same with or without 9/11. Bad review of a very credible movie.

Joe DiMaggio - 4-18-2011 1:33 AM
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The negative review Is grossly unfair. Yeah, it's not reality TV or a product of the horror genre, but it tries to tell a a factual story from the standpoint of the suspension of one's constitution rights and hoe hysteria can lead to unfair justice. Here, Serrat is the personification of that deprivation and her hanging was the result of hysteria. Not for the "knocked up" crowd, although a little education might not hurt them. And if you go on about prosletyzing, then what about Rob Reiner? Everything he writes is an ultra left wing grace.

Charlie - 4-18-2011 11:24 AM
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There's an agenda here, but it's not the director or writer, it's the film critic. This film has been on the boards for almost 20 years. The Civil War Sesquicentennial is an appropriate time to release it! Find another career Grae

Doug - 4-21-2011 6:54 PM
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Your review, sir, is proof that those who have forgotten history are deemed to repeat it. Regardless of what has happened in the 20th and 21st centuries, this actually happened in 1865. Try, just for a minute, not to view the movie thought your bias for what happened since 9/11. I will agree that this kind of movie really appeals to those with an interest in the history of the US, but hopefully this kind of movie will actually rekindle an interest in US history in others. For that, it was worth making.

GCC - 5-01-2011 10:40 AM
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If anyone has read (not watched about) even a fraction of the REAL history around this story, they would know that Mary Surratt was completely guilty. Redford, once again, is using his bully pulpit and wealth to feed Americans HIS version of history and his politics. Very tiresome...

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