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movie reviewmovie reviewvideo review out of 4 Movie Review: Amistad

Starring: Morgan Freeman, Anthony Hopkins
Director: Steven Spielberg
Rated: R
RunTime: 142 Minutes
Release Date: December 1997
Genre: Drama

Review by Walter Frith
4 stars out of 4

Steven Spielberg is without a doubt the most creatively diverse movie maker of his generation. He chooses material for children and adults alike and often makes important social statements while doing so. He released 'Jurassic Park' in 1993 and followed it up that same year with 'Schindler's List'. Can you think of two films more diverse? He has released the sequel to 'Jurassic Park' in 1997 entitled 'The Lost World: Jurassic Park' and has followed that up with 'Amistad'.

Beginning in 1839, it tells the story of a slave ship whose prisoners, led by new coming actor Djimon Hounsou, miraculously escape and kill the Spanish crew of the ship. Two men who bought the slaves remain and are ordered by the prisoners to steer the ship back to Africa. The ship floats into U.S. waters and the slaves find themselves in the hands of U.S. authorities and are tried for their actions in a New England Court.

Their attorney (Matthew McConaughey), is joined by an abolitionist (Morgan Freeman) and another man (Stellan Skarsgard) who fight for the freedom of the slaves and they seek the counsel of former U.S. President John Quincy Adams (Anthony Hopkins) who helps them argue for the release of the prisoners in the United States Supreme Court.

The strongest thing 'Amistad' has going for it is that its message is undoubtedly about morality. The challenge in finding justice tries to overcome many obstacles. It places its profound message on the highest pedestal and drives a stake into the heart of the American justice system as it tests its fairness which sometimes seems partial when the President at the time of the incident, Martin Van Buren (Nigel Hawthorne), who is a supporter of slavery only in terms of keeping the South off his case, replaces the judge at the trial with someone of his own choosing who may rule against the slaves in their argument for release.

'Amistad' begins slowly and gets better as it goes along and is well crafted above anything else. You can tell this is a film which was discussed greatly by everyone involved in the making of it as it again looks and feels like nothing Hollywood has ever made before which is a special gift Spielberg has.

The most important character in the film is the portrayal of John Quincy Adams by Anthony Hopkins. By the end of the film you wish you had seen more of him but you realize that his role was adequate enough to affect the outcome of the film and you feel satisfied after thinking about it. Hopkins triumphs again in playing another U.S. President separated by 130 years. Remember 1995's 'Nixon'? It makes Hopkins a more appreciated and cherished actor when you consider his range in playing those two characters along with many others just as different.

I was very impressed with the performance of Djimon Hounsou as Cinque, the man who is the centre of the slaves' struggle for freedom. It is possible that along with Hopkins, he could receive an Oscar nomination for this movie. I hope 'Amistad' finds a place separate from Hollywood's commercialism at Christmas time and while it does take liberties with history's actual events, it should still be used in schools and universities as an important learning tool in the progression of a more equal society.

Copyright 1997 Walter Frith

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