Amistad (1997)


Bil’s rating (out of 5):   BB.5

USA, 1997.  DreamWorks, Home Box Office.  Screenplay by .  Cinematography by .  Produced by , Steven Spielberg, .  Music by .  Production Design by .  Costume Design by .  Film Editing by .  

Overlong and patronizing account of a slave ship bound for Jamaica, whose passengers revolt with the intent of returning to Africa but end up in 19th-century Massachusetts instead. Now an American court has to decide what to do with these rebels who have committed murder against their “superiors” and are the property of Spain. Newcomer Djimon Hounsou is compelling and graceful as the main character, a slave who connects with his legal advocate (Matthew McConaughey) and tells his story of being abducted from his peaceful and beautiful homeland, enduring the worst conditions and indignities on the rough seas before finally taking matters into his own hands.

Despite Hounsou and McConaughey’s excellent performances, and the supporting work done by a vibrant Anthony Hopkins, director Steven Spielberg directs the film as if it’s meant for ten year-olds, generalizing too much information and presenting characters with little nuance (David Paymer points at the prospective slaves and shouts that they are possessions; there’s no denying that people this terrible existed, but they’re presented as caricatures here).

It is, of course, a chapter in history rarely talked about in schools or books and for that reason should definitely be seen, but don’t expect too much from the experience intellectually. Morgan Freeman and  are all but wasted as gentlemen who take up the slaves’ cause.

Academy Award Nominations:  Best Supporting Actor (Anthony Hopkins); Best Cinematography; Best Costume Design; Best Original Score-Drama

Golden Globe Award Nominations:  Best Picture-Drama; Best Actor-Drama (Djimon Hounsou); Best Supporting Actor (Anthony Hopkins); Best Director (Steven Spielberg)

European Film Award:  Outstanding European Achievement in World Cinema (Stellan Skarsgard)

Screen Actors Guild Award Nomination:  Best Supporting Actor (Anthony Hopkins)

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