Conspirator - Movie Review Essay Example

Published: 2022-05-27
Conspirator - Movie Review Essay Example
Type of paper:  Essay
Categories:  Movie American history
Pages: 5
Wordcount: 1369 words
12 min read

Movies are a suitable medium for educating learners and other interested persons about the rich and diverse history of the US. Over the years, several films and documentaries have been made in an attempt to represent critical historical events and situations as witnessed in the American society. Film producers usually have different motivations behind the representation that they seek to portray in their films. They aim to critique history, by supporting or opposing significant events that affected the existence of man in the society (Louis n.p). The films also serve as a record for the reference to history enthusiasts, as they document past events that are of relevance to the present-day society. This paper will discuss the ease with which civil liberties are overlooked in the face of historic adversities as portrayed in the film "Conspirator."

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The film, which was released in 2010 and directed by Robert Redford, revolves around events following the assassination of President Abraham Lincoln. It follows the lives of the lead character, Mary Surratt, as she faces prosecution for her role in the conspiracy to assassinate the president, the vice president, and the secretary of state. She is the only woman among those faced with the dreadful charges of murdering the president of the US (Louis n.p). President Lincoln was shot in Ford's film theatre by southerner John Wilkes Booth (Warren, 146). Her trial, in a post-civil America, is subject to external influence that is bound to derail the justice process. The director reveals to the viewers that the justice system was ideally after Mary's son, John. Several agents were pursuing him for being a co-conspirator in the plot to kidnap and trade the president for incarcerated confederates.

A union lawyer, Fredrick Aiken, was compelled to represent the accused in the capacity of a defense attorney. The odds are naturally stacked against the defense as the judges presiding over the military tribunal are all union officers. Mary's lawyer is initially portrayed as not believing in the innocence of his client. As the film progresses, Aiken becomes motivated to fight and defend his client in an attempt to prove her innocence. His efforts end in futility as the military tribunal finds her guilty (Louis n.p). This is influenced by external pressure from the public, as well influential members of the government. The panic and fear in the nation contribute to the guilty verdict passed by the tribunal.

The swaying of the verdict on the appropriate punishment by the secretary of war in the film is a clear indication of the total disregard for the rule of law and constitutional guidelines on civil liberties. Attempts by lawyer Aiken, to seek a re-trial in a civilian court rather than a military tribunal, bear fruit (Wilson 935). However, his efforts are thwarted by President Johnson. Consequently, Mary is sentenced to death through hanging, thus suffering the same fate as the other conspirators.

The film makes an accurate representation of the historical events that ensue in the aftermath of the assassination of President Lincoln. The course taken in the prosecution of accused persons by the criminal justice system is depicted as subject to external influences. In this particular case, Lincoln was a national figure, courtesy of the role he had played in keeping the union together during the tumultuous civil war (Frieden n.p). The larger population of the US looked up to him as a great leader, owing to his accomplishments. He notably abolished slavery in the US through the emancipation proclamation. It was, therefore, a big blow to the public to lose such a leader to the plot of disgruntled criminals.

The impact of such an act led to the great desire to not only seek justice but also enact vengeance on the perpetrators behind the killing. As such, the trial and prosecution of Mary was more of a political agenda, set out to accomplish goals and ultimatums established by the executive (Walters n.p). The film represents how easy it is for civil rights and liberties to be ignored in the event of crises, as witnessed on various occasions across the US. The main concern of proceedings in such critical times is to restore an element of peace and calmness. The justice system uses these catastrophes in history to regain the faith, confidence, and trust of the public by bending to their whims.

The presentation of Mary before a military tribunal, instead of a civilian court, shows the outright dismissal of civil liberties, in the event of a public crisis. Protected by the United States Constitution, the accused was supposed to receive trail in a civilian court. Despite guidelines contained in the Fifth and Sixth Amendments of the US Constitution regarding citizen's rights to trial, the passion for vengeance overrode the will to adhere to guidelines. Military tribunals, established by executive powers of the President, were headed by military judges (Wilson, 935). They lacked the legal capacity to interpret and pass judgment accordingly in comparison to civilian court judges, whose specialization was legal knowledge. The executive unconstitutionally influenced the military tribunal, thus denying the accused her civil liberties.

In the same interest of seeking revenge for the blow that the US suffered through the death of President Lincoln, the film shows the Secretary of War influencing the testimonies of the two witnesses. Members of the government did not wish for the accused to be set free, considering the cry for vengeance by the northerners. The escape of John left the biased justice system with no option, but to prosecute the mother for her alleged role of harboring fugitives, who plotted against the president. This determination, coupled with public hysteria, led to witness tampering, in an attempt to guide the tribunal judges towards a guilty verdict that would appease the public (Marcus 197).

Public anger, alongside the desire for retribution, affected the rational analysis of evidence on which the accused, Mary, was convicted. These forces affected even the rationality of President Johnson. He blatantly acted against the constitutional and voided the accused' liberties. He suspended a writ of habeas corpus issued by civilian judge Andrew Wylie, which would have offered a re-trial for the accused. The likelihood of a lesser form of punishment being issued by a civilian court threatened the sole reason, for which the military tribunal was established. Thus, the president acted beyond his constitutional powers by revoking the writ (Walters, n.p). He authorized the hanging of the defendant; and in a way, the tempers of the public were quenched by her death. This is evident as the film ends with the freeing of John, Mary's son. His trial in a civilian court, consideration of his civil liberties and the relatively reduced passion for vengeance by the public afforded him a fair and just trial.

In conclusion, the film represents a fault in the US criminal justice system, with particular regard to how it responds to crises. Adversities on a national scale have proven to shake up the delivery of justice. The system allows for external influence to negatively impact procedures and limits on which it operates. Such historical representation serves to show the present-day society of the challenge that catastrophes bear on the justice system. It shows how easily disaster results in total disregard of human rights and freedoms, in a bid to suit the whims of the public. By providing a record of accounts of the history on trial, the film serves as a reminder and a challenge to society at large, to exercise rationality even under the pressure of significantly trying moments.

Works Cited

Frieden, James. "Learning Guide to Lincoln." Teach With Movies. 2014. Accessed on 5 May 2018.

Louis Cooney, Patrick. "Conspirator (2010)." Vernon Johns. Accessed on 5 May 2018.

Marcus, Alan. "From the Civil War to 9/11: Democracy and the Rights to a Fair Trial." Social Education, vol. 75, no. 4, 2011, pp. 196-198.

Walters, Ryan. "A Miscarriage of Justice? The Trial of Mary Surratt." The Imaginative Conservative 2017. Accessed on 5 May 2018.

Warren, Craig A. "Lincoln's Body: The President in Popular Films of the Sesquicentennial." The Journal of the Civil War Era, vol. 4, no. 1, 2014, pp. 146-154.

Wilson, Christopher P. "The Conspirator." (2011): 934-936.

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