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Amistad [VHS] 
Steven Spielberg directs this epic drama, based on actual events. In 1839, a group of fifty-three African slaves held on the ship 'Amistad' revolt and kill the crew, demanding to be returned to Africa. The helmsman misleads them, taking them to America, where the Africans are put on trial. Slavery abolitionist Theodore Joadson (Morgan Freeman) arranges for young attorney Roger Baldwin (Matthew McConaughey) to defend the Africans in court. However, the lawyer has trouble communicating with the Africans' leader, Sengbe Pieh (Djimon Hounsou), and American President Van Buren (Nigel Hawthorne), coming up for re-election, is anxious not to lose the votes of those in the pro-slavery southern states.
Steven Spielberg's most simplistic, sanitised history lesson, Amistad, explores the symbolic 1840s trials of 53 West Africans following their bloody rebellion aboard a slave ship. For most of Schindler's List (and, later, Saving Private Ryan) Spielberg restrains himself from the sweeping narrative and technical flourishes that make him one of our most entertaining and manipulative directors. Here, he doesn't even bother trying, succumbing to his driving need to entertain with beautiful images and contrived emotion. He cheapens his grandiose motives and simplifies slavery, treating it as cut- and-dry genre piece. Characters are easy Hollywood stereotypes--"villains" like the Spanish sailors or zealous abolitionists are drawn one-dimensionally and sneered upon. And Spielberg can't suppress his gifted eye, undercutting normally ugly sequences, such as the terrifying slave passage, which is shot as a gorgeous, well-lit composition. At its core, Amistad is a traditional courtroom drama, centred by a tired, clichéd narrative: a struggling, idealistic young lawyer (Matthew McConaughey) fighting the crooked political system and saving helpless victims. Worse yet, Spielberg actually takes the underlying premise of his childhood fantasy, E.T. and repackages it for slavery. Cinque (Djimon Hounsou), the leader of the West African rebellion, is presented much like the adorable alien: lost, lacking a common language, and trying to find his way home. McConaughey is a grown-up Elliot who tries communicating complicated ideas such as geography by drawing pictures in the sand or language by having Cinque mimic his facial expressions. Such stuff was effective for a sci-fi fantasy about the communication barriers between a boy and a lost alien; here, it seems like a naive view of real, complex history. --Dave McCoy, Amazon.com --This text refers to the DVD edition.
Top Customer Reviews
At its best, "Amistad" reminds us that the evil of slavery caused terrible suffering to real people and that its abolition was one of the greatest achievements of the nineteenth century. In a world where there are still pockets of slave commerce, it is a reminder of how serious this evil is. The re-creation of a Portugese slave ship and the horrors inflicted on its victims was very well done, and to me the most powerful sequence in the film was that where chained slaves are dragged over the side to drown due to the crew miscalculating the amount of supplies required for the crossing.
At its worst the film contained some sequences which appeared to be overly artificial. Anthony Hopkins is an excellent actor, but there is something unconvincing about his portrayal of John Quincey Adams - it just seemed too saccharine. As I am not familiar with the details of the actual court case I cannot say anything with authority, but the version in the film seemed rather formulaic - hopeless case gains unexpected triumph at hands of struggling young lawyer (seems a bit familiar), then there is a reversal of fortunes, but triumph in the end. The scene of the destruction of the slavers' base in Sierra Leone seemed rather tagged on the end, but did at least give a pleasant reminder that for once the British were on the side of the angels and morally ahead of those nasty colonials who did not stop trading human lives for money until forced to.
Bottom line? There are a lot of third rate movies out there and this is definitely not one of those. It is a film that is worth the time to watch, but I had hoped for better.
The year 1839 though many activists campaign to rid the World of slavery in
many places the trade was alive and well at this time.
This story tells of a group of enslaved 'Africans' on their enforced journey take
over the ship 'LA AMISTAD' with the intention of sailing her back to their
However, despite their efforts, the 'LA AMISTAD'' mutineers are recaptured...they
will now face a trial in 'America'
The court will hear claims of ownership of the defendants, the trial is followed by
the whole nation, it becomes an issue of Human Rights for the enslaved 'Africans'
A team is brought together to defend the defendants 'Mathew .S. Baldwin' played
by 'Mathew McConaughey' and 'Theodore Joadson' played by 'Morgan Freeman'
Language difficulties are a real problem between Council and Defendants'
For the Lawyers what starts as just another job soon becomes a mission, though
the defence's presentations are proven it is not and end to the ordeal for the
defendants as a new judge is appointed which means it all has to be done again.
'Mathew' and 'Theodore' desperately try to learn the basics of their clients language,
fortunately they stumble across a former slave that can act as a interpreter.Read more ›
The movie, though slow moving, is intense, and the drama builds as many groups claim the slaves as their property. This story is truly gripping and a story of extreme importance in understanding our own history. This lesser-known Spielberg film is truly a must see.
Most Recent Customer Reviews
This is a powerful film dealing with the morality of slavery in pre- Civil War USA. Many of the scenes are incredibly moving, but I found it over-long and inclined to labour its... Read morePublished 1 month ago by Livvy M
This film is very useful when teaching history and the slave trade.Published 1 month ago by Mr. Noel Newman
An excellent depiction of this truth-based story of rebellion by slaves on a west-bound square rigger. Read morePublished 3 months ago by HENRYoFELIX
Great film very moving I would recommend this film to anyonePublished 4 months ago by hotmamajoanna