Amistad (1997)

                                          reviewed by
                                          Ben Hoffman


         Steven Spielberg knows how to tell a story that is at once gripping and enlightening. Here he turns his attention to the year 1839 when the Amistad uprising took place on the high seas. A Spanish ship is taking slaves from a Havana slave market to somewhere else in Cuba. Conditions below deck where the prisoners are held are unbelievably horrible. When the captors discover they have insufficient food for all their slaves, they tie some of the most ill and debilitated to the anchor cable and drop it overboard where all attached to the cable drown.

         The movie tells us many strange things of which we may have been unaware. We know that the God-fearing people of the South saw nothing wrong with enslaving other humans, ripping their families apart and destroying their culture. It was just that point that made me wonder at Cinque (Djimon Hounsou), the leader of the fateful uprising, who did not remark when shown in a Bible pictures of Jesus, including the walking on the water, "Where was He when my people were being drowned?" How could he say that while the slaves were treated badly, "others" had apparently suffered worse. As I do not recall that in the book on which the film was based, I wonder why that was inserted in the film?

         The film is filled with heartbreaking emotion. The anchor incident mentioned is one of them. The scene of Cinque's wife and family back in Africa; the capture and enslavement by other black Africans is fearful viewing. Attempting to help the slaves who are on trial for murder of some of their captives is Roger Baldwin (Matthew McConaughey) who, at first approaches the trial (with 7 of the judges slave-holders!) as a trial of humanity, only to discover that he can win only if it is shown as a matter of property. Were the captors legally
justified in shipping someone else's property? He is aided by a couple of abolitionists: Joadson, a former slave himself (Morgan Freeman in a comparatively small role) and Tappan (Stellan Skarsgard), an immigrant.Prominent in the film is Martin Van Buren as a weasel who would sell his soul to get re-elected. At the opposite end is the most powerful performance given by Anthony Hopkins in the role of John Quincy Adams addressing the court for some dozen spellbinding minutes. Now, THERE is an actor!

                         Written by David Franzoni.

                       Directed by Steven Spielberg.

     3.5 Bytes

     4 Bytes = Superb
     3 Bytes = Too good to miss
     2 Bytes = Average
     1 Byte  = Save your money

                 Copyright 1997               Ben Hoffman

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