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Amistad (1997)

Djimon Hounsou , Matthew McConaughey , Steven Spielberg  |  R |  DVD
4.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (283 customer reviews)

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Product Details

  • Actors: Djimon Hounsou, Matthew McConaughey, Anthony Hopkins, Morgan Freeman, Nigel Hawthorne
  • Directors: Steven Spielberg
  • Writers: David Franzoni
  • Producers: Bob Cooper, Bonnie Curtis, Colin Wilson, Debbie Allen, Laurie MacDonald
  • Format: Multiple Formats, Anamorphic, Closed-captioned, Color, Dolby, NTSC, Widescreen
  • Language: English (Dolby Digital 5.1)
  • Subtitles: English
  • Dubbed: English
  • Region: Region 1 (U.S. and Canada only. Read more about DVD formats.)
  • Aspect Ratio: 1.85:1
  • Number of discs: 1
  • Rated: R (Restricted)
  • Studio: Dreamworks Video
  • DVD Release Date: May 4, 1999
  • Run Time: 155 minutes
  • Average Customer Review: 4.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (283 customer reviews)
  • ASIN: 0783231202
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #10,592 in Movies & TV (See Top 100 in Movies & TV)
  • Learn more about "Amistad" on IMDb

Special Features

  • Behind-the-scenes featurette

Editorial Reviews

Amazon.com

Steven Spielberg's most simplistic, sanitized history lesson, Amistad, explores the symbolic 1840s trials of 53 West Africans following their bloody rebellion aboard a slave ship. For most of Schindler's List (and, later, Saving Private Ryan) Spielberg restrains himself from the sweeping narrative and technical flourishes that make him one of our most entertaining and manipulative directors. Here, he doesn't even bother trying, succumbing to his driving need to entertain with beautiful images and contrived emotion. He cheapens his grandiose motives and simplifies slavery, treating it as cut- and-dry genre piece. Characters are easy Hollywood stereotypes--"villains" like the Spanish sailors or zealous abolitionists are drawn one-dimensionally and sneered upon. And Spielberg can't suppress his gifted eye, undercutting normally ugly sequences, such as the terrifying slave passage, which is shot as a gorgeous, well-lit composition. At its core, Amistad is a traditional courtroom drama, centered by a tired, clichéd narrative: a struggling, idealistic young lawyer (Matthew McConaughey) fighting the crooked political system and saving helpless victims. Worse yet, Spielberg actually takes the underlying premise of his childhood fantasy, E.T. and repackages it for slavery. Cinque (Djimon Hounsou), the leader of the West African rebellion, is presented much like the adorable alien: lost, lacking a common language, and trying to find his way home. McConaughey is a grown-up Elliot who tries communicating complicated ideas such as geography by drawing pictures in the sand or language by having Cinque mimic his facial expressions. Such stuff was effective for a sci-fi fantasy about the communication barriers between a boy and a lost alien; here, it seems like a naive view of real, complex history. --Dave McCoy

Product Description

Morgan Freeman, Anthony Hopkins, Djimon Hounsou, Matthew McConaughey. An African man leads a revolt aboard a slave ship, then is tried for his crime. Directed by Steven Spielberg. 1997/color/152 min/R/widescreen.

Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews
35 of 41 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars So what if history is made more entertaining? June 10, 2003
Format:VHS Tape|Verified Purchase
Have the critics of this film's historical "accuracy" never heard of "dramatic license"? If they had, then they would understand that Spielberg, like most of his profession, slightly alters history to make for greater theatrical effect or even heighten the events of the story. "Amistad" achieves both with scenes of horror combined with those of great poignancy that make for a total movie experience.
While there are times when the film drags, the performances and the engrossing story itself make up for the few inadequacies. Though stars Morgan Freeman (especially riveting in the inspection of the Amistad scene), Anthony Hopkins, and Matthew McConaughey perform well in their respective roles, the best acting belongs to Djimon Hounsou, Razaag Adoti, and Abu Bakarr Fofanah as three of the Africans, and the underrated Pete Postlethwaite as prosecutor Holabird. Nigel Hawthorne, as the inept President Van Buren, and Peter Firth as a conscious-ridden British ship captain are also memorable.
Spielberg skillfully balances a movie that is a courtroom drama mixed with an indictment against the slave system of America's past. The scenes of the events of the cursed "Middle Passage" are as graphic as is possible within the confines of Hollywood filmmaking.
John Williams contributes a beautiful and understated score, just below the surface of the on-screen events, providing just enough to carry the story along.
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15 of 18 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Some unpleasant historical truths explored January 15, 2001
Format:VHS Tape
This is an important video to see. Based on the historical incident in 1839 of a group of 45 slaves who took over their ship, the Amistad, and wound up in Connecticut. This is a the story of slavery as only Steven Spielberg could tell it. And it is also the story of the United States of America headed toward civil war, the story of petty politics, and a serious debate in front of the supreme court with Anthony Hopkins as John Quincy Adams.
The film is full of those modern touches that make it so typical of movies of the late 1990's. Subtitles are used as the slaves speak in their own language and the Spanish crews speak in theirs. This adds an authenticity to the story. In contrast, another 1990s touch that detracts from its authenticity is that the slaves all look as if their well-muscled bodies were toned in modern gyms.
The scenes of the Africans on the slave ship are the most moving that I have ever seen filmed. The chains are heavy and real, the terror and despair excruciating, the entire ordeal brought to the screen in horrifying detail. Contrasted to this are the Americans in Connecticut, doing their best to create this new country. There are abolitionists spouting moral values, lawyers debating whether the Africans are slaves or free people because of details of law, and an international treaty with Spain that is rife with politics.
The video is three hours long, which could have been trimmed by at least an hour. The speeches get a little pompous sometimes and go on much longer than they need to. Morgan Freeman plays a role that has obviously been written in to show that there were some wealthy free blacks in that era, a role which should have been either expanded or eliminated.
Although not perfect, this video should be seen.
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12 of 14 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars an interesting period piece, but at times a bit maudlin February 15, 2000
Format:VHS Tape
I was immediately drawn into this movie, and stayed drawn in; I wanted to know what the fate of the Africans would be. The fact that this case really happened, and that it generated such disturbing political issues, mark it as an important story in U.S. history. And because the plot was based on a story which did happen, I cannot agree with the criticisms of those who faulted the movie because it portrayed whites saving blacks. I cannot see how to make the story otherwise and remain true to the original case.

On the other hand, the scenes where the whites triumphed on behalf of the blacks were indeed maudlin and sentimental in presentation, and did seem to send a message of "See? Not all white people are so bad." Nonetheless, the portrait of Van Buren and the political scene of the time were strong reminders that there were plenty of whites at fault..........As for the criticisms by Hispanics that the movie portrays Spanish/Cuban people as villains, I do not see that.....As a person with Cuban ancestry, I think the movie portrayed pretty much what happened.....should Spielberg have tried to make the 2 Cuban slavers look sympathetic so as not to hurt Hispanic peoples' feelings? How should he have portrayed the queen of Spain? The Spanish royal family has always been subject to criticism, much of it from within Spain: look at the portraits painted by Goya of the Spanish court. The corruption of that institution could fill volumes.....

In viewing this film and then reading the reviews, one thing has become very clear to me: that both whites and minorities in this country still view history through their own special racial/ethnic lenses, and with a great deal of defensiveness....to move toward the values which Spielberg tried to put forth in Amistad, we must all strive for a little more objectivity.....
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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Now More Relevant Than Ever Before February 24, 2008
Format:DVD
AMISTAD is as relevant today as it was when it first came out in 1997. In at least one respect it is now even more relevant.

As most viewers realize early in this film, it was not designed to provide audiences with pleasant entertainment. Rather, it is a kind of didactic drama, serving--like Euripides' ancient Greek play THE TROJAN WOMEN (415 B.C.E.) and the recent George Clooney film SYRIANA (2005)--both as a reminder of a nation's flawed past actions and as a plea to be better in the future. Insofar as racism and racial violence are still thriving in our country--often encouraged by some politicians and pundits in low places--AMISTAD's main message is still needed, and the film is still an effective means of awakening people to the injustice of granting some citizens a place of special privilege while other citizens are kept subordinate.

By a fluke of historical fate, however, this film can draw our attention to things that were not in the forefront of its makers' minds at that time. Viewing AMISTAD in the winter of 2008, I was struck by the repulsive actions of President Martin Van Buren, who hungered so strongly for a second term that he repeatedly tried to deny justice to the wronged men and women of the slave ship--even intervening to have their favorable verdict overturned by the Supreme Court (which at that time seemed to be stacked in his favor by a margin of 7 to 2). Do our presidents ever commit such immoral acts nowadays? Does anyone of any party doubt it? And do the members of our Supreme Court ever make their decisions on the basis of "party loyalty" despite what our laws and our Constitution may say to the contrary? Are we ever in danger of having a majority of such false justices making vital, life-altering decisions?
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Most Recent Customer Reviews
5.0 out of 5 stars Five Stars
Good
Published 20 hours ago by Lourdes Saldana
5.0 out of 5 stars Awesome!!
Awesome!!!! A must see film depicting the trials of American slavery that would drive our nation to Civil War and the trials of man, woman and child brought into slavery. Read more
Published 7 days ago by jersey strong
5.0 out of 5 stars Perfect
Perfect
Published 9 days ago by Teresa L Miller
2.0 out of 5 stars ... YOU WATCH IT I KEPT IT THE PRICE WAS GOOD.
THE DVD WAS NOT VERY CLEAR WHEN YOU WATCH IT I KEPT IT THE PRICE WAS GOOD.
Published 14 days ago by utheldra B.fowlkes
5.0 out of 5 stars A movie to love and to hate
I love and hate this movie at the same time. It is well made and keeps ones attention. It is however a sad testament to man's inhumanity to man!
Published 14 days ago by ML
5.0 out of 5 stars amistad
love this movie was a great film and the cast was superb
Published 15 days ago by stoneyloc
2.0 out of 5 stars Ironic, that Spielberg, too, treats these blacks as just so much...
I found the movie to be sterile, hollow and bereft of character development, especially concerning the black rebels. Read more
Published 24 days ago by Sui Juris
5.0 out of 5 stars Five Stars
This is a great movie to have
Published 24 days ago by Kennethmorse
3.0 out of 5 stars Three Stars
Good movie.
Published 1 month ago by Dianne Kirkpatrick
3.0 out of 5 stars I know this was an old time movie but I ...
I know this was an old time movie but I just couldn't get through it - I will try again sometime!
Published 1 month ago by gardengirl12
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Is Amistad movie for Children?
no
Apr 8, 2008 by R. GRAHAM |  See all 3 posts
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