December 10, 1997
Amistad is the telling of the slave revolt on the ship Amistad and the subsequent United States court cases regarding whose property they were and what was to be done with them. I think that overall this film does a decent job at providing the viewer with the essential plot points although there was some confusion in my house regarding just what the court cases were about.
Let’s first consider the actors in this film. First, there is an obvious lack of any female actresses; the most notable being the small role of Queen Isabella of Spain (played by a young Anna Paquin). This is a male dominated film for sure. Matthew McConaughey performs in one of his most serious roles of his acting career and carries it quite well. He is the lead attorney, Roger Sherman Baldwin, for the Africans from the Amistad in the Connecticut court case. Anthony Hopkins, who I have found wonderful in any role, plays former President John Quincy Adams to perfection. He is one of the attorneys for the Africans when the case is taken before the Supreme Court. He has a great mix of a serious, dour demeanor, with a little humor thrown in. Morgan Freeman plays Theodore Joadson, a free black man who is somehow involved; his character was one that I never quite pinned down the importance of except to act as a foil to the enslaved men. But the most probable scene stealer is Djimon Hounsou, who plays Cinque, one of the African men. Although he speaks mostly in an African language and only says a few English words, the performance he puts on is spectacular. I have loved him in every movie – he is quite a great actor who is often overlooked.
One of the things that I found most interesting and poignant was when they showed the flashback scenes of the Africans at home, being captured, and on the Amistad. It was great to see some of their back story and really helped make them characters who you cared about rather than cut and paste characters. The scenes of Cinque at home with his wife and child were beautiful.
Overall this was an interesting film that pretty much stuck with the facts of the trial; however it did seem to emphasize slavery as one of the main issues, when that wasn’t really the case. The issue of the trial was over property rights and the international slave trade.
Be advised that there are some scenes of nudity and brutality. These scenes were necessary to portray just what the Africans were subject to while on board the Amistad and were well done.
Check out this trailer:
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