on October 10, 2003
This movie could be really good if it focused on the Middle Passage. The brief segement on the slave ship was by far the best sequence in the film. But the rest of the movie is dull, sappy, and overblown.
Also, its not very historically accurate. This is not a problem dramatically ("Nixon" for example:great drama, horrible history), but its a personal pet peeve of mine. Also, as a history teacher, I find it disturbing that teachers were encouraged to use the film for educational purposes when it was released.
I'm a fan of the movies put out by Steven Spielberg. He has taken true historical events and turned them into such captivating beautiful movies that none can compare. What Spielberg did for the Holocaust in "Schindler's List," and WWII in "Saving Private Ryan," he did with our terrible past of slavery in "Amistad." This film's strength is in its portrayal of the horrible treatment of the Sierra Leone Africans who are illegally captured for slaves in the 19th century. This movie, and the event itself, was not about freedom of slaves in America over an American issue, but instead about whether slaves on a Spanish vessel were illegally captured or if they were what lawyers in the film called "livestock" in the Spanish Empire when they killed all but a few of the boat-masters. The film portrays this and then the morality of slavery in an unobtrusive way, and that's what makes this movie great along with the score, which I believe should have gotten at least a nomination.
The film is gilded by beautiful sets and costumes where even "Doctor Zhivago" pales in comparison. The photography was more than stunning. However, the film is slightly marred by the somewhat empty performances by some of Americans in the film who lack emotion and engaging dialogue, and the film doesn't unfold as smoothly as one would expect from a Spielberg creation. There are other things that are underrated, such as Djimound Honsu's unforgettable performance as the leader of the slaves as well as the drama and ghastliness of the shipboard treatment of the slaves. The person that slightly disappointment in here is Matthew McConaheys. While not bad but not as good as it could have been. Morgan Freeman played is role well here but not his best because at times he would look slightly wooden. Anthony Hopkins in the other hand is amazing. His speech at the end will send shivers down your spine. There is also a beautiful scene of Hounsou and McConaughey character's communicating perfectly in languages the other doesn't know.
"Amistad" does give you emotional punch through a mild action sequence. It is purely drama, and the story's power lies in the words, expressions, and actions of the actors who make up for it. It's truly one of the better films out there, and once again, Spielberg has proven himself to be the master of putting the human spirit on the silver screen. Even though critics place it to be a `good' film I find it to be a great!
on December 31, 2003
A film by Steven Spielberg
"Amistad" is a fact based account of a 1839 revolt by African slaves on the slaveship La Amistad, and the legal trial in the United States over what exactly should be done with them after they were rescued (and imprisoned) on American soil. "Amistad" was Spielberg's first serious work since "Schindler's List" (not counting "Jurassic Park 2" which was also released in 1997), and it should be counting among the best movies of 1997. It is a powerful film.
The central story is that of the African slaves. The movies focuses on one particular slave, Cinque (Djimon Honsou), so that we have someone to be interested in, and so that the human story of their experiences can be told. They were able to overthrow the slavers while on the slave ship, but their captive was able to sail them to America rather than back to Africa. Upon arrival in America, the slaves are promptly captured by American soldiers and imprisoned until their status can be ascertained. As the lawyer for the Africans, Baldwin (Matthew McConaughey) says in the movie, "it is a matter of property." Who owns the slaves? The soldiers who captured the slaves claim ownership as salvage. The slavers claim ownership citing a legal purchase of the slaves in Cuba. The government of Spain claims ownership. The Africans say they are free men. Who owns the slaves? Are they legal property? This central question is what the movie revolves around and works towards answering. We learn the answer early in the movie, but the question is what can Baldwin prove before the courts, and will the courts listen to him?
Steven Spielberg did a good job in showing that this was not just a case of the white man jumping and rescuing the black man. That did exist here, but Spielberg showed just how central and important Cinque was, how his actions and his words were what helped the case for the Africans the most. All the while, Baldwin and Joadson (Morgan Freeman), a freed slave, are entreating former President John Quincy Adams (Anthony Hopkins) to become an advocate on behalf of the Africans.
As I mentioned earlier, this is a very powerful film. There is an extended sequence were Spielberg shows the experience of the slave ship and it is so horrible that I don't think I can put words to it. While "Amistad" may not rank quite as high as "Schindler's List" or "Saving Private Ryan" on the list of great movies, this is an excellent movie that deals with a subject usually ignored. This is a slower paced film, with more time spend talking and in the courtroom, but it is a very good one, too.
on July 20, 2003
I just recently got a chance to see this on TV, as I missed it back during it's release. As always Spielberg's methods draw you into the picture and capture you for the entire length of the movie. "Amistad" is a great historical Drama based on a true story about a ship load of African slaves that had mutineed against their spanish captors and landed on the shores of America, and the ensuing legal battle deciding thier fate (do they go back to the spainish government? the slave traders? or do they go free?).
With such an interesting tale to tell, and such excellent implimentation, it's hard not to like this movie. Spielberg had many obviously inspired moments in this film, showcasing the relationship of the slaves and their lawyer and the struggle to understand one another and flashbacks of the brutality the slaves had endured at the hands of their captors. The movie has many memorable moments that will stay with you and many parts that make interesting statements about human nature. One such interesting scene has the africans looking through a bible that was given to them, and they try to make sense of it, even though they know no english, by the pictures alone. One really gets the sense of what it must be like to be among and at the mercy of a strange and foreign culture.
A wonderful film.
on July 20, 2003
Steven Spielberg and Debbie Allen's exercise of poetic license through this docudrama frames another awesome revelation of the historic, bitter Slavery roots of noble America, a nation of immigrants. It lends a new appreciation for the term "African American", just as elsewhere we have come to better understand "Native American". It is "a story about mankind... the very nature of man".
The epic human struggle combined with the historic realities of effects like Jefferson-Hennings descendants and an American President's recent symbolic pilgrimage to the "point of no return" on Coreo Island off the coast of West Africa are instructive of the noble spirits of American liberty springing in part from the tortured roots of Slavery, and provides this old white guy with a far better insight into the imperatives for an African American (Smithsonian) Museum.
Those great cultures forcibly contributed much of the basic values of our America; and these, our roots in splendid diversity, allow a far more robust and spiritual human ecology that we know as America, compared to the centuries of virulently tribal isolationism elsewhere now so obviously center stage in world affairs.
on November 4, 2002
This review refers to the Dreamworks Doby Digital Edition.....
Based on actual events, Steven Spielberg and Debbie Allen collaberate to bring us one of the many heartwrenching stories of the plight of Africans,during the illegal slave trade of the 1800's.
A group of African people who were brutally draggged from their villages are being transported for slave trade. Only knowing that they are chained and mistreated one man,breaks loose and leads a rebillion against the ship's crew. In order to ensure their own freedom they must take the lives of their captors. They are discovered in American waters, and a trial ensues as to the question of murder.
It becomes an international case. Everybody from the queen of Spain to the owners of the ship "Amistad" are claiming ownership of these men and women. Being pre-civil war, the abolishionists are also making a case for their freedom.This is a case that could lead America one step closer to Civil War.
One property lawyer who has never worked on a case of this proportion, takes on the task of trying to prove that these are not plantation slaves,but citizens of Africa taken by force and did what they needed to do to be free, as any American would do the same. His task is a difficult one,but as the tragic story of these people unfolds he is able to put on his defense. They also get some help from the ex-president John Quincy Adams,whose eloquence puts the Declaration of Indepence to the test.
This is a magnificent piece of cinema in all respects. Spielberg brings to our attention yet another important piece of history that was cruel and inhuman,one of American history that we were hardly aware of.It is an epic film that will wash over you with several different emotions, and you will want to watch it again and again.
No big introduction needed for most of the cast who seemed perfectly fitted to their roles. Matthew McConaughey outstanding as the lawyer, Sir Anthony Hopkins is brilliant as Adams, Morgan Freeman and Stellan Skarsgard are totaly believable as the abolishionists,and Pete Postlethwaite perfect as the lawyer for the prosecution. Also in a sterling performance is Djimon Housnsou as Cinque, the spokesperson for the Africans. His portrayal of the enslaved man who only wants his freedom will captivate you.I must also make mention of Nigel Hawthorn and David Paymer for their wonderful performances.The cinematography is breathtaking. The music scored by John Williams and especially the African music will stay with you long after the movie. You will also be impressed with the costume designs. The film was nominated for four Academy awards,including one for Best Supporting for Hopkins.
The DVD is top quality.The Widescreen(Anamorphic) gives us an incredible view of everything going on in the courtroom scenes and on the ocean voyages. The picture does justice to the great cinematography. It is clear and crisp, colors are vibrant. Nighttime scenes are vivid as well. The 5.1 Dolby Dig surround fills the room. It can also be viewed in the 2.0 stereo. The special features,including a behind the scenes featurette are informative as well as entertaining. There is closed captions if needed.
You will not be dissapointed with either the film or the DVD transfer, it is one that will be a great addition to your collection. Watch it again and again.......Laurie
on September 25, 2002
Director Steven Spielberg's AMISTAD, has been criticized by some, for being too sensationalized. Having watched the film again, I came away not able to agree with those folks, not entirely anyway. The film chronicles the story of a group of enslaved Africans, and their quest to be free. When the slaves overtake the ship they are traveling on, so that they may go back to their homeland, the ship is seized, and brought to the newly dormed United States Of America. The slaves are charged with murder, and must stand trial for their crimes, where prison awaits. For the slaves of La Amistad, it is their freedom that is at stake, For the U.S., it's foundation of justice is tested as well. An all star cast brings this story to life. (The always great) Morgan Freeman, Sir Anthony Hopkins, Matthew McConaughey, and then-newcomer Djimon Hounsou as slave Cinqué, give solid performances in the film and hold your attention for the entire movie.. I think the film is suffers from a bit of heavy handedness for its climax, but I don't think that it's all that much, as some make it out to be. It certainly doesn't detract from the film, and I can think of a few films that are worse offenders than AMISTAD.
The DVD is pretty sparse when it comes to extras. It includes a few production notes, a (written) word from Spielberg, cast and crew information, and the theatrical trailer. The most substantial extra is a making of featurette that reads like a bloated commercial for the film. Taken at face value, the movie is worth a look, and gets a solid four stars
on July 9, 2002
Call me naive but I figured Amistad was a movie that would show the horror of the transatlantic slave in much the same way Spielberg used Oscar Schindler's story to show the tragedy of the holocaust. What do we get instead? A courtroom drama. At a point I was wondering if this was a movie about the escaped Africans or the greatness of John Quincy Adams. There is a scene where Morgan Freeman vainly struggles to look noble and inspired after a summation by Adams which leaves us in no doubt of the answer to that question in Spielberg's mind.
It is really curious how the Africans seem to disappear in a movie about them. With the exception of Cinque, no black character is really fully developed. The atrocities endured by the slaves in the middle passage are shown in very brief taut scenes. Even the most shocking lacks the emotional impact of the scene where Amon Goethe decides to use a young boy for target practice because we do not have enough time to know the victims.
Perhaps it is really asking too much for any white American to make a picture about slavery on the same level as Schindler's list. There is after all a question of guilt and no one likes to feel guilty. It is the same reason you don't find German directors making movies about the holocaust. Imagine what would have happened if Spike Lee had directed this joint.
Amistad has its moments. For example a scene where Cinque and his friend try to interpret the bible is very touching. However I cannot recommend this movie. Pick up a copy of the book, "The interesting narrative of the life of Olaudah Equiano" instead. Olaudah was an 18th century Igbo slave from my own neck of the woods in Nigeria. His perspective will give a truer picture of the horrors of slavery.
on June 5, 2002
I sincerely believe that Spielberg had honest intentions to make statements about racism in this, but somehow, he gets just too caught up in making a spectacular movie.
There are good elements in this movie, but they unfortunately are exterior elements, details like the dress of the characters, spectacular cinematography, and some very insightful acting, especially Anthony Hopkins as President John Quincy Adams. All this adds to the entertainment aspect of the film but not to the essence. He doesn't really force us to look at the morals and the ethics of the situation. Instead, there's a superficiality throughout.
I do believe that this story is worth telling, and the resulting movie is worth seeing because through the superficial entertainment the discerning viewer may be somewhat stimulated into thinking about the issues that could have been better tackled here.
As in SCHINDLER'S LIST, Spielberg is looking at racism, but through different eyes. Somehow, there is a condescending tone here, and he is not tuned in completely to the complexities of the situation portrayed.
There's no way that I can trash this film. On the other hand, I can not hold it up as an important film that must be seen. For entertainment and for a partial look at the subject, this is OK. For a deeper questioning, look elsewhere. I've just reviewed a TV adaptation of AN OUTPOST OF PROGRESS, and while that is hardly spectacular, it gives far deeper insight.
on June 4, 2002
Movies about historical subjects often fictionalize. Amistad has a strong ideological slant. The history it revises is available in the excellent book, Mutiny on the Amistad, by Howard Jones. A review essay in the February 1998 issue of Commentary Magazine describes the movie's bias and offers examples. Here are others.
The film consistently overstates the Black and understates the White role in the effort to free the Africans:
1. The historical role of Dwight Janes (a white New London abolitionist) of alerting American abolitionists to the arrest of the Africans is transferred to Joadson, a fictitious black abolitionist, played by Morgan Freeman.
2. The historical role of Baldwin and Tappan (both white abolitionists) in requesting the help of ex-president John Quincy Adams early in the case is transferred primarily to Joadson, whose appeal is portrayed as more intellectually and morally cogent than Tappan's.
3. The historical role of Adams in helping defense counsel to improve their case by peppering them with legal questions is transferred to Cinque, the African leader.
4. The historical pressure from white public opinion in the North, widely favorable to the Africans, is omitted.
5. The film gives no sign of the impressive intellectual strength in the white abolitionist ranks, e.g., the speed and acumen with which central issues in the case were grasped. Within a few days of the Africans' arrest, Janes had outlined the argument in their defense that would be adopted by the Supreme Court. Within two weeks, Seth Staples and Theodore Sedgwick, white abolitionist lawyers, had addressed a memo to President Van Buren, reinforcing the Janes analysis and arguing powerfully against any executive move to take the case away from the courts.
Fictions are employed to suggest that the story's blacks are sharper and wiser than the whites:
1. Joadson's opinion that the destruction of slavery is necessary to complete the American revolution, rudely put down by Adams at their first meeting, is echoed and vindicated by the close of Adams' argument before the Court. Here a person who never existed is represented as making an argument in a meeting that never took place, supporting a thesis that Adams never adopted.
2. Cinque's superb intelligence enables him to figure out what Baldwin means by drawing lines in the sand, to raise a host of possibly relevant legal points and to teach Adams the perspective that crowns his argument. The divination, the legal advice and the crowning argument were all fanciful.
The film also misleads by anachronistically positing the danger of civil war if the Africans won in court: a fictitious warning by the Southern Senator John Calhoun that their release would be a long step toward war and a fictitious willingness by Adams to accept that result as completing the American revolution. This grossly exaggerates the portentousness of the case. People were not predicting or threatening civil war, despite events far more divisive than a Supreme Court decision based on the illegality of the transatlantic slave trade. The beauty of this case for the abolitionists was that the men who claimed to own these Africans were not Americans. Here actual slavery could be vigorously and triumphantly combatted by the substantial body of white opinion that considered slavery and the slave trade morally wrong, but did not wish to press abolition on the South.
More important, the film creates a false impression re the kind of arguments presented to the Supreme Court in behalf of the Africans, and the basis of their victory. It suggests that the captives were freed because Adams persuaded the court to stand tall with the Declaration of Independence and the Founding Fathers. But in fact only a few seconds of Adams' eight-hour argument referred to the Declaration, and the argument that counted with the Court was made by Baldwin.
According to the Court's opinion, the question was whether these Africans were owned by the Spanish claimants. The decision that they were not was based on a law and a fact: the Spanish law banning the Atlantic slave trade, and the fact of fraud in the ship's papers identifying the Africans as ladinos.
The injustice of slavery is now so central to our moral code that it may be hard for people to understand how any Supreme Court decision could stop short of it, if the justices were responding to the merits. But the Court was applying the positive law of its time. It accepted the rationale argued by the abolitionists from the beginning (Janes to Baldwin, Staples and Sedgwick to Van Buren) and presented by Baldwin as his second argument. This rationale protected mutinous blacks, provided they had been illegally held as slaves.
In his first argument, Baldwin sought a wider protection, a rule under which the status of a black fugitive would be determined not by the federal government but by the state to which he fled. By this proposal mutinous blacks fleeing places other than the American South could be declared free on their arrival in a free Northern state, regardless of their slave status elsewhere. But this argument (which the Court's opinion ignored) was as firmly confined to positive law as the argument that triumphed. In an early sentence, Baldwin invoked "the great principles of the Revolution," the Declaration of Independence and "the genius of our institutions," but he did not profess to derive his legal conclusions from these premises.
Adams made JUSTICE in caps a continuing theme of his speech, but he was not thereby referring to any provision of the Declaration or any position on the morality of slavery. He was arraigning the Van Buren administration in detail and at length for favoring the Spanish claims when justice required impartiality, and for intervening in ways that justice would have barred. An ex-President exposing the machinations of the current chief executive, a former Secretary of State examining and scolding every step and misstep of the present Secretary!
Yes, a helluva story - the reality much more interesting than the transmogrifications!