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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 AlexI
3½ stars out of 4

While everyone were praising "Titanic" , greater and far more important films slipped by, overseen and underrated. Amistad was one of them. Unfairly compared to box-busters, Amistad is one of the best films of the year.

Set in 1839, Amistad tells the true story about a group African natives imprisoned on a Spanish slave ship La Amistad. Led by the lion-hearted Cinque (Djimon Honsou), they take control of the vessel, killing most of the crew. Uncertain how to make they way back to Africa, they put their trust on two surviving Spaniards. But the clever slave traders outsmart them and La Amistad makes its way northward to United States. Here the Africans are captured and imprisoned, charged with piracy and murder.

The christian abolitionist Lewis Tappan (Stellan Skarsgard) and ), an ex-slave Theodore Joadson (Morgan Freeman), are the first men who come to the Africans' aid. These two men receive assistance from Roger Baldwin (Mathew McConaghey), an property attorney and former president John Quincey Adams (Anthony Hopkins). However powerful forces are against them. Current President Martin Van Buren (Nigel Hawthorn), eager to please the Southern voters, and the 11-year old Queen Isabella of Spain (Anna Paquin) start complotting against the abolitionists to ensure that the Africans never go free.

Steven Spielberg directs with wonderful precision and passion from the opening to the closing shot, bringing in the horrible reality and a powerful sense of importance.

The film begins with a masterful close-up on bloodied fingers, lit up by the bolts of lightening, trying to scratch free a bolt holding the chains to the deck. The brutal and violent mutiny that follows is more than balanced by Spielberg's honest and terrifying flashback sequence later in the film, describing the horrors and inhuman suffering of everyday life on a slave ship.

Spielberg doesn't hold back anything and directs with incredible visdome and deep understanding:under a rain of blood, surrounded by pain and screams, a mother holding a child jumps overboard, choosing a life in death, rather than a death in life; I doubt that anyone will forget the helpless men and women chained to rocks and thrown overboard, because the crew has underestimated the provisions.

However this uncovered and honest flashback is also the most intense and emotional sequence in the film, as the picture suffers from the lack of emotional resonance and immediacy. There are some moments in Amistad that resemble a dry history lesson, although an important one.

With bitter irony Spielberg named the ship La Amistad, meaning friendship. The Africans understand their trial as we would understand a trial on Mars. And the film has many humorous scenes shown from the Africans's point of view, such as their view on the christians (who they call singers) and on the American legal system.

The cast is solid and effective, involving some of the most famous stars of Hollywood.Morgan Freeman plays an ex-slave that has devoted his entire life to the abolition of slavery. Freeman doesn't know how to disappoint, and the only regret is that there is very little time granted on his character. Mathew McConaghey's character is a bit like Oscar Schindler in "Schindler's List".He was looking at slaves as property and was only interested in how to win the case, and how to gain money from it. Throughout the movie however, he gets more human, when he realizes what he is fighting for. Anthony Hopkins delivers one of his best performances. Hi has painted a sensational portrait of a man that is fighting his age, his reputation and his legacy to accomplish something good, something he truly believes in -- before he dies.

But the film's best performance comes from the newcomer Djimon Honsou , who brings a wonderful sense of dignity, quite strength and touching vulnerability to his role as the unofficial leader for the Africans. During the whole film he speaks only 5 words in English, and jet, we understand everything he is saying, because the words come from the heart and not from the mind.

The visual perfection of the film is as staggering as the direction.

Janusz Kaminski's wonderful cinematography resembles the paintings of Goya - muted to tones and low on colors and lighting. Rick Carter's marvelous and detailed production design and Ruth E. Carter's costumes re-create the historical period. John Williams' deep, emotional and occasionally terrifying musical score, including African quire and folk songs is probably the finest composition of the year.

Amistad is a finely crafted drama that explores, better than any film to date, the injuries, the injustices and the horrors of slavery. Equally important to our understanding of slavery as "Schindler's List" was to holocaust.

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