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