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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 David Wilcock
3 stars out of 4

After Jurassic Park (1993), Spielberg went to drama with Schindlers List (1995) a harrowing tale of the Holocaust, a subject very close to Spielberg. So, after The Lost World: Jurassic Park (1997), he follows it up with Amistad, a harrowing tale of slavery, mutiny, freedom, and hope. Although nowhere near as personal, or as good, as Schindlers List, Amistad is a fine film, with good acting, an interesting story, and some outstanding scenes.

The films starts spectacularly (and violently) with a mutiny by black slaves (led by Cinque, played by Hounsou) on the ship 'La Amistad.' They demand that the ship is taken back towards Africa, but they are tricked, and end up on the shores of Connecticut. They are imprisoned, and have to go to court to decide who's 'property' they are, either the ships captains, or the Queen of Spain (played by Anne Paquin, previously seen in The Piano) Slave abolitionist Theodore Joadson (Freeman) first takes their cause, and also attorney Roger Baldwin (McConaughey.)

After the great opening sequence, the film dies down a bit, and goes into standard historic fare, with sweeping music by John Williams, and some words of wisdom by Cinque, plus ex-president John Quincy Adams (Hopkins.) The two standout performances are Hounsou and Hopkins. Hounsou is superb, because he only says one line of English. The audience has to rely on his facial expressions to see what he is feeling, and he conveys them very well. Hopkins performance is the complete opposite, with the audience enjoying his superb speeches rather than his facial expressions. Both are excellent, though, although Hopkins hardly has any screen time, and only really comes in at the end of the film. Of course, the other performances are good, especially McConaughey. Sadly, Freeman is given a relatively small role, and never really gets to do much acting. It's a shame, as Freeman is a superb actor, but this role is not meaty enough for him. In fact, he hardly says anything in the film, and a fine actor is wasted.

The bad guys are good fun, with David Paymer fun as the slimy John Forsyth, and Pete Postlethwaite good as the district attorney. As usual, it turns out that the bad guys are more fun than the good guys, although as said above, Cinque and Adams are both well played, and interesting characters. Paquin is fun as the eleven year old Queen of Spain, stamping her feet and complaining to get her 'property' back.

The script, although based on a true story, is clinched. You can tell what the characters are going to say before they even say it. Advice we have heard a hundred times before is heard in this film. Sure, it may be in Mende (the slaves native language) but it is still the same words of wisdom. The costumes, set design and cinematography are impressive, however, and the music is pretty decent, and nowhere near as intrusive as in Empire of the Sun (1987) Spielbergs direction, apart from the start and the end, is surprisingly average. It isn't as powerful as Schindlers List direction, and there are no scenes that are as good as the 'shootings from the roof' or the woman showers parts in Schindlers. It's a shame, as this film could easily be as powerful as Schindlers, but it never quiet's achieve it.

The film has other flaws. The length is horrendous. This is a very long film, and the film can slow down to a crawl. In fact, halfway through the movie, it threatened to drop dead. Thankfully, there was a superb flashback sequence to save it, but then it went back to dull, then another saving sequence. It's like this through the whole. There's a superb scene that holds your attention, and then a dull one. It never quite reaches 'boring' as such, luckily, because there's always a good scene just before it becomes too dull.

Amistad, overall, is a interesting story, with two stand-out performances, and even a bit of humour, but never really a very high level of entertainment. It's a shame, because this film has a lot of promise. It's not bad, but it's not spectacular either. However, despite it's flaws and it's very long length, Amistad is interesting, and quite entertaining. Sadly, though, it's no classic.

*BEWARE: The film contains a lot of strobe lighting at the start and during the flashback.

Copyright 1998 David Wilcock

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