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Drama, History, Mystery
IMDB rating:
Steven Spielberg
Morgan Freeman as Theodore Joadson
Nigel Hawthorne as Martin Van Buren
Geno Silva as Ruiz
Tomas Milian as Calderón
Razaaq Adoti as Yamba
Matthew McConaughey as Roger Sherman Baldwin
David Paymer as Secretary John Forsyth
Chiwetel Ejiofor as Ensiign Covey
Anna Paquin as Queen Isabella
Djimon Hounsou as Cinque
Anthony Hopkins as John Quincy Adams
Pete Postlethwaite as Holabird
Storyline: Amistad is the name of a slave ship traveling from Cuba to the U.S. in 1839. It is carrying a cargo of Africans who have been sold into slavery in Cuba, taken on board, and chained in the cargo hold of the ship. As the ship is crossing from Cuba to the U.S., Cinque, who was a tribal leader in Africa, leads a mutiny and takes over the ship. They continue to sail, hoping to find help when they land. Instead, when they reach the United States, they are imprisoned as runaway slaves. They don't speak a word of English, and it seems like they are doomed to die for killing their captors when an abolitionist lawyer decides to take their case, arguing that they were free citizens of another country and not slaves at all. The case finally gets to the Supreme Court, where John Quincy Adams makes an impassioned and eloquent plea for their release.
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Moving but perilously distended slavery drama
A very good film. Though it arguably falls foul of a very Spielbergian ending, in which the pace of the final third of the film is drawn out, such a protracted denouement is less fatal here than it was for, say, A.I..

Spielberg has played a discreet part in mounting this story. With the exception of a disturbing flashback to the enforced enslaving of Serria Leone nationals, his part has been to feed and frame some good character acting. Djimon Hounsou is second to none as the spirited, principal African insurrector Cinque. He runs the gauntlet with the help of Matthew McConaughey's ambitious property lawyer.

The rest of cast only serve in proportions of the film; with such a large, fine cast it would be too rich a meal otherwise. The pick is, doubtlessly, a shuffling, oracular Anthony Hopkins as former President John Quincy Adams brilliantly delivering a final peroration. It is this set piece that Spielberg takes his time getting to, but persevere - it's as good a stretch of acting as Hopkins has ever produced.

Predictable film-making then from Spielberg. But that means it's entertaining, watchable and touching - a first class movie. 7/10
Surely a master piece from Spielberg
I gave it 8 of 10 because of the great story the acting especially from Anthony Hopkins and the great point in this movie. A must see!!! Enjoy it...
Freedom's Cry
I can say that back when I was a lad going to school in the Fifties and Sixties in Brooklyn, New York USA, we never learned of such things as the Amistad revolt. For that matter we learned nothing of Denmark Vesey's or Nat Turner's slave revolt. We learned about the Civil War and what led up to it. But the plight of the slaves themselves, not a word.

So when Steven Spielberg did this film about an incident known to serious historians, but not to the public at large, I say BRAVO to Mr. Spielberg.

What has to be remembered here is that the while slavery was legal, the importation of slaves had been banned for quite some time by 1839. The Africans depicted here are forbidden to be slaves in the first place.

It was hoped that when the Constitution got going in 1789 that slavery might die on its own accord. But unfortunately a guy named Eli Whitney invented the cotton gin which was a device for picking through the pesky seeds in the cotton fibers. That made cotton THE crop of the south and gave slavery a new lease on life. And as you see in Amistad anything that threatened the life of what the south was pleased to call it's "peculiar institution" was a call to arms.

Amistad gives us the portrait of two United States presidents. The current one in 1839 is Martin Van Buren who's probably best known for being the real founder of the Democratic party political machine. He succeeded Andrew Jackson on March 4, 1837 and promptly was greeted with a bank panic that led to a depression. His chances for re-election in 1840 were not looking good to start with and he was exceptionally vulnerable to southern pressure. Ironically enough his last bid for public office was in 1848 as the third party presidential candidate of the Free Soil anti-slavery party. Nigel Hawthorne captures Van Buren, a man who always played his cards close to the vest.

A very different sort was John Quincy Adams our sixth president from 1825 to 1829. His presidency was probably the least successful time in his whole public career which starts as teenager during the American Revolution. He undertook a series of diplomatic assignments culminating with being Secretary of State under James Monroe from 1817 to 1825. Of course he was the son of our second president John Adams and like his father refused to do even the normal political things that could have gotten him re-elected.

As an ex-President he was serving in the House of Representatives in 1839 one of only two whoever went back to Congress after their presidential term was up. By this time he was a passionate abolitionist and the pleading of the cause of the Amistad slaves was an opportunity and a challenge. Anthony Hopkins captures the man who was now called Old Man Eloquent down to his clipped New England speech.

What happens briefly is that a cargo of Africans on a Spanish slaver revolted mid sea and killed all but two on board. Those two were preserved because the Africans didn't know anything of seamanship. The two remaining steered the ship Amistad to Long Island where the whole story is discovered. The Africans become a legal and political football all the way to the United States Supreme Court.

Other performances to note are Morgan Freeman as black free man Theodore Joadson, Stellan Skarsgaard as abolitionist Lewis Tappan, Matthew McConaughey as attorney Roger Baldwin and most of all Djimon Hounsou as Cinque the leader of the African's revolt.

Before his story is told the attorneys have to learn the language and Spielberg graphically portrays their struggle for communication. Hounsou's portrayal of a man in an alien world who's only desire is to go back where he came from will sear your very soul.

Amistad is grand entertainment and a needed history lesson about man's need for and willingness to fight to be his own master.
Let us remember what slavery was really about
I am not really much of a fan of Spielburg movies because most of them seem to be light hearted, warm, fuzzy movies where everything turns out right. The stars get together at the end and there is a lot of action, fantasy, and plain escapism. But recently Spielburg seems to have turned away from his pointless special effects extravaganzas such as Jurassic Park and moved on to some more demanding and theme driven movies. Amistad, his latest, is one of those. The theme of this movie is freedom and how one will do anything to get it. Amistad is based on a true story and is about a group of slaves who were illegally abducted from Africa and taken to America to sell. One of the slaves manages to free himself and then the rest of the slaves and they mutiny and take the ship. Unfortunately they have no idea how to sail the ship and return to Africa so they end up drifting north along the American coast until they are picked up off the coast of Conneticuit and detained. The movie then quickly movies to a courtroom drama where the who question of slavery is raised. These group of slaves who were illegally apprehended (for at this time the British had banned slavery and the slaves were taken from a British Protectorate) become the centre of a huge debate between the North and the South were the tension over slavery is quickly building. It seems that the South does not want these slaves released, and there is also pressure from Queen Isabella of Spain but nobody is listening to her. Most of the pressure comes from one senator John C. Calhoun, a Southerner who does not want these slaves free. The whole movie is about freedom and Anthony Quinn delivers an incredibly American freedom speech at the end of the movie which is just typically American. The interesting thing though is that there seems to be some biblical overtones through the movie. A friend of mine was very impressed that the biblical ideas were there, but I am a little more cynical for I think Spielburg actually undermines a lot of this towards the end of the movie where the Negro puts his faith in his ancestors rather than God and things seem to succeed. I think also there is a lot of faith put into the court systems of America and this court system in the end pays off, even though it does cause a lot of problems for the poor Negroes. Freedom is interesting for the preamble to the American Declaration of Independence says that all men are created free. Free from what and free to do what, and are we really free. Are we free to kill; are we free to ignore our government; are we free to ignore God? We are free to do anything we want but we must face the consequences for what we have done. There is also hope in the movie but a lot of the hope is shattered. The Negroes interpret the bible from pictures and there seems to be a lot of hope built up here and we feel that we have come to a conclusion only to see it dashed to pieces. Even right at the end the hope of the Negroes are destroyed when they return home to find it gone. History may have abolished slavery and free millions of blacks, but it had changed the lives and the culture of millions of people and completely destroyed a civilisation. Slavery is wrong, but we are all slaves. We are slaves to the world, slaves to the governments, slaves to our society, and most of all slaves to our own sinful desires. Spielburg does not address this in Amistad. He just says slavery is wrong and we cannot return to this. We are all Americans and we are free so let us rejoice. There is no Christian ideologies in this movie for the freedom does not come from Christ but rather it comes from the American Declaration of Independence. While we continue to believe we are free we are going to walk further away from Christ and further into our own self destruction.
While I don't know everything about the actual events, I understand that this isn't entirely historically accurate. That is to be expected, with it coming out of Hollywood. Worse still, this was made by Spielberg(competent director though he may be, the way the man views the world, you'd think those glasses were made of sugar), and there is, indeed, some sap and sentimentality, but it is actually fairly limited. Also, this has brutality and disturbing content. It of course(given who put this on the silver screen) in the end boils down to a banal and easy to memorize moral, then again, too many people still, to this day, don't get it, so it does need to be said. This is engaging and evokes genuine emotion from the viewer. The plot is well-told, and develops in a satisfying way. Pacing is spot-on, this is never boring, and it doesn't move overly fast, either. The writing is quite magnificent. All of the characters are credible. Every single acting performance is excellent. There are quotable and marvelous lines of dialog in this. This is effective and well-done. Production value is beyond reproach. There is a little nudity, and a moderate amount of violence, neither being gratuitous. The DVD holds a theatrical trailer, and a 25-minute behind-the-scenes featurette. I recommend this to anyone interested in watching it. 7/10
Amistad Movie Review
Steven Spielberg, director of the movie, Amistad, bases this movie off of a real event which was a slave revolt on a Spanish ship named La Amistad. He uses an all black cast to enforce the idea of slavery and other ideas that surround that topic at the time. The story behind this event is that on the ship's route to the United States to trade the slaves or sell them, all the slaves revolted. Led by Cinque, the slaves killed off part of the crew. Although, the ship was still headed to the United States, and once they arrived, they were all brought to court and tried for murder. The U.S government, led by president Martin Van Buren, wants to ship the Africans back to Spain. Two spaniards who own the ship La Amistad, want to claim ownership of the slaves, and the American Ship who found and recovered the crew members and slaves want the slaves as well. Meanwhile two abolitionists, Tappan and Theodore, and are in the middle of it all, and want the slaves to be set free. The case then eventually appears before the Supreme Court, argued by ex president, John Quincy Adams.

The movie portrays and gives viewers a good understanding of how this event happened, what led to it, and the results of it. The director sets a mood that fits the historical event, proper setting, and there weren't too many incorrect things or stretches on what actually happened, It was a good story and the director and cast members worked hard, it was a job well done.
Uneven film with many great elements
'Amistad' is not one of Steven Spielberg's best, in the way that 'Schindler's List', 'Jaws', 'ET' and 'Raiders of the Lost Ark' are. He has however done worse, with the likes of 'The Lost World' and '1941'. Instead it's around solid middle when it comes to his films.

Starting with the positives, the best things are the production values, coupled with the handsome and evocative period detail and the rich, searing cinematography there are some really arresting images here, and the sensational debut of Dijimon Hounsou, a performance of blistering passion and grave sensitivity.

Throughout, especially in the first three-quarters, 'Amistad' boasts moments that are harrowing (the brutal voyage of the slaves), powerful (the opening scene) and moving (most of the film). The script is well-intentioned and thoughtful, if sometimes a bit over-sentimental and heavy-handed (especially Adams' big speech, that could have been stirring but didn't seem to know how far to go to make its obvious point, so it felt preachy). Much of Spielberg's direction is impeccable, with enough of what makes his direction so great in his best films.

Hounsou isn't the only great actor here. Anthony Hopkins gives his all in an authoritative and stirring account of Adams and Matthew McConaughey shows more engagement and charisma than he does in some of his later films. Morgan Freeman is underused but is as you expect.

On the other hand, 'Amistad' is a long film (not a bad thing necessarily), but could have been about 20 minutes shorter with less characters and some of the final act being trimmed. Some of the latter part of the film drags, and the score disappointingly is over-emphatic and gives a heavy-handedness. Despite being brilliantly delivered by Hopkins and clearly written with thought and good intent Adams' big speech just went too far making its point.

In conclusion, a brave attempt at bringing a significant, if not as well known, event to film that works very well in a lot of elements but just misses the mark of completely working as an overall film. 7/10 Bethany Cox
Solid Spielberg.
Here we have another historical epic made in the same vein as Schindler's List, only more discreet and soft. While Spielberg really took it to the audience in giving them as authentic an experience as possible for his Holocaust picture, here he sits back and lets us take the experience for ourselves. The stories are similar here, as we watch two groups of people be completely controlled by outside forces simply for the benefit of the force controlling them. Of course we sympathize with them, but Spielberg takes it farther and gives us a rather unforgiving portrait of the slaves' journey to America. Starting in Africa, they are captured by Portuguese slave traders and then sold to the Spanish ship La Amistad. The journey from Africa to Cuba is the most horrific as we watch the inhumane sleeping quarters and food rations these people are given. The film then settles into a courtroom drama mode as we watch Morgan Freeman and Matthew McConaughey fight for their freedom against the government led by newly reelected president Martin Van Buren. Not always history savvy, the film still manages to portray these iconic American figures as someone we can listen and relate to. This brings me to the technology aspects of the film which more often than not are a success. The acting is great with Freeman doing his usual stellar performance and Djimon Hounsou being completely convincing of his slave leader character. However, I was most impressed with Anthony Hopkins as former president John Quincy Adams and McConaughey as the young lawyer that lead the case. McConaughey in particular needs to do more films like this to become the true movie star he has the potential for. All these chick flicks with Kate Hudson and Jennifer Lopez are an insult to the magnificent work he does here. The direction is steady by Spielberg and the writing keeps us interested for the most part. While a little long at times and maybe not completely accurate, this is still a film well worth seeing and a great piece of American history frozen forever in the reels of cinema.
spielberg: to be or not not to be spielberg
steven spielberg, the greatest talent of our times, and now the biggest monopoly of our times, has one final question with which to trouble his ever expansive mind,"what have i done to shape cinema in the last millennium".Answer:everything and nothing!. movies like 'jurassic park' and (afterwards) other dreamwork related projects may have advanced the technical side of film-making no ends (and by now his ever expansive wallet) but have done little to test the intellect of the viewer while much to please the eye. yet movies like 'schlinders list','saving private ryan' and 'amistad' prove that one man can influence a generation of movie buffs as much as a president. sounds corny i know, but in twenty years time "movie" people will remember the ground breaking war epic that was 'private ryan'(not even his best), as the defining moment of the nineties, much like those who remember 'apocolyapse now'(although the "godfather" series were much more significant) as the defining moment of the seventies (until oliver stone came along),(i must also apologise to all terrence mallick fans). not trying to take away from it, but fact normally is much less interesting than fiction. except where mr. spielberg is concerned. give this guy a true story and a tight narrative and he will grab your attention like your first girlfriend, give him one hundred million dollars and he will lose yours like your last.
An underrated Spielberg movie.
For some reason, this movie did not get as much attention as Spielberg's other movies. This movie accurately shows the inhumanity of slavery. It's very emotional and the cinematography is brilliant. One of my favorite scenes in this movie is the "conversation" Cinque(Hounsou) and Baldwin(McConghuey) have even though they can't speak each others' language.
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