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38 of 44 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars So what if history is made more entertaining?
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...
Published on June 10, 2003 by Reginald D. Garrard

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35 of 48 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Well meaning, but misses the mark
I sincerely believe that Spielberg had honest intentions to make statements about racism in this, but somehow, he gets just too caught up in making a spectacular movie.
There are good elements in this movie, but they unfortunately are exterior elements, details like the dress of the characters, spectacular cinematography, and some very insightful acting, especially...
Published on June 5, 2002 by Neal Reynolds


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38 of 44 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars So what if history is made more entertaining?, June 10, 2003
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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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14 of 16 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
By 
Ruth Henriquez Lyon (Duluth, Minnesota USA) - See all my reviews
(VINE VOICE)    (REAL NAME)   
This review is from: Amistad [VHS] (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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17 of 20 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Some unpleasant historical truths explored, January 15, 2001
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. Sometimes it's easy to forget how young the United States actually is and how rooted in the past our politics are. Armistad certain deepens our understanding of this heritage and enlightens us about some unpleasant truths. Truths that we, as a people, need to look at.
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6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Now More Relevant Than Ever Before, February 24, 2008
By 
This review is from: Amistad (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? Has such a thing happened within living memory? Does anyone of any party doubt this? Does anyone believe that President Van Buren was the very last president to try to manipulate matters as far as laws and the separation of our government's branches are concerned? If any of us disagree on the answers to these questions, it is only about the names of the guilty parties and/or the relative degrees of their guilt.

And yet, within this film we are shown that, on the issue of human rights and "the belief that all men are created equal," 8 of the 9 justices of the Supreme Court in Van Buren's day had the intelligence and integrity to vote to uphold what our Founding Fathers had promised our citizens and had stated about human beings everywhere. And while I found many other parts of this film deeply moving--the parts which had been scripted, directed, and acted to press my emotional buttons on the issues of slavery and the rights of all human beings--in my recent viewing of this film I was also very deeply moved by the sight of our nation's much criticized Supreme Court doing the right thing. In line with the other messages of the film, this suggests that our citizens have a right to expect AND a duty to demand no less from our present Supreme Court as well as from all future Supreme Courts.

The British politician Edmund Burke is supposed to have said, "All that is necessary for evil to triumph is for good men [and good women] to do nothing." Although no one has ever been able to verify where or when he may have said this--or whether some other person said it who has been wrongly forgotten--it is still a valid maxim, one well worth remembering whenever we are tempted to let someone else do our thinking or fighting for us.

And now, coming down off my soapbox, here is one tiny piece of art trivia: the biblical illustrations shown in AMISTAD were done by a French artist named Gustav Doré. And although the main action of the film takes place between 1839 and 1841, Doré was not born until 1832, and his biblical illustrations were not published until 1865 in French Bibles--and were published three or four years later in English Bibles. Does this destroy any of the fabric of the film? No, of course not. Does it make me think any the less of this film? Certainly not. Its central message remains intact--and its new and unintended message about our presidents and our courts needing constant vigilance to keep them working properly is not affected in the least.
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A History We Should All Learn, January 2, 2003
By 
"lab_lover_1" (Long Island, NY) - See all my reviews
This review is from: Amistad [VHS] (VHS Tape)
Amistad is a very moving and thought provoking movie. It gives us a look at a part of our past which we should all learn more about.
The story focuses on the struggle of illegally captured Africans to re-gain their freedom and return to their native Africa. The Africans are captured, transported to Cuba and then transferred to another ship, La Amistad, for the final leg of their journey. However, there is a mutany and the Africans seize control of the ship. All but two of the white crew members are killed during the mutany. When the ship nears land, Long Island, to replenish deminished water supplies, they are captured and face trial for murder.
The drama that unfolds is fastening and disturbing. The struggle over freedom is based in determining if the Africans are actually illegally seized Africans or if they are slaves, that is if they were born into slavery, and therefore property.
The ensuing legal battle gives the viewer a look into the many conflicting forces that were at play in the United States during the 1830s. It is also a sobering look at how the politically powerful tried to manipulate the legal system to get their desired ends.
Cast is very strong and gives a very moving performance.
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6 of 7 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Another "must see" for history students., March 25, 2006
By 
This review is from: Amistad (DVD)
As with all movies about history, I review them from the perspective of the history teacher and leave all of the other particulars to the other reviewers. In this case, however, I'd like to address the Amazon review (written by Dave McCoy) as well. McCoy states that the director (noneother than Steven Speilberg) feels compelled "to entertain with beautiful images and contrived emotion . . . [and] . . . 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." For the record, I'll say that I agree wholeheartedly---but in this case, an excellent movie still unfolds and a story that SHOULD be told is told! Also, let me address a fellow reviewer's (Leon Washington) remark that those who slam this movie are guilty of racism. I don't necessarily think that those who give this movie bad reviews are categorically racist, but I do think they may be missing the "big picture" here. Alright, let's get on with the review.

High school and college history teachers---this movie is a must see for numerous reasons. For one, Anthony Hopkins does a superb job (as expected) of portraying John Quincy Adams. His performance is worth the price of admission alone. Yet, many students may find his performance a bit boring. Herein lies the problem with the real history---this movie is based upon a real-life courtroom drama. Much of the movie is set within the courtroom and let's face it, most high school students will typically begin yawning. This is not necessarily so, however, with "Amistad." You see, it's the very fact that Speilberg DOES create sensationalism---"Hollywood moments" if you will---that saves this movie from being a yawner! It may be true that some characters are oversimplified villains, but all good movies have some sort of antagonist.

Many reviewers have trouble with Speilberg's portrayal of the events aboard the infamous slaveship, Secora. I disagree completely. This is a realistic depiction of what could happen on any given day aboard a "slaver." ****Note**** While riveting with its "shock and awe," young viewers (under 12) probably should not see these horrific scenes for the usual reasons.

There's no doubt that Speilberg takes a bit of poetic license when presenting this film. Who cares? This is a story that should be told and Speilberg does so excellently. Even political science students should see this since it also serves as a testimony of U.S. diplomacy and foreign policy during the mid-nineteenth century.

High school teachers, please don't exclude this great movie from your list based upon the negative reviews of critics. You'll be glad you showed it and your students will be all the wiser! Please show it within it's relative time period as well. In other words, don't just show it during Black History Month.

So, what should students LEARN from this movie?

First --- Students should be able to parallel the events of this drama with the events that would soon unfold in America (Civil War). In other words, they should be able to see how the decision of the Supreme Court would have been a victory for abolitionists and a defeat for pro-slavery advocates like John Calhoun.

Second --- Students should discuss the Monroe Doctrine in relation to our treaty with Spain. Does the U.S. violate her treaty, or are we following our own self-revealed destiny?

Third --- Students should use this movie as support for a discussion of how Great Britain attempted to enforce its ban on slavery and how Spain and Portugal attempted to continue slavery in their colonies.
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Beautifully acted and filmed, August 12, 2005
By 
This review is from: Amistad (DVD)
This movie was vastly underrated when it was released. It was one of the best films of 1997, and the incredible Morgan Freeman gives one of his best performances. Anchored by sensitive performances by two great actors, Freeman and Anthony Hopkins, it is one of Spielburg's best films. Amistad is a powerful film without seeming false or manipulative in any way. The film may not be completely historically accurate, but it is an important film. The scenes where some of the slaves are thrown overboard the ship to lighten the load are very difficult to watch and are inappropriate for children. Otherwise, it is a good film for parents to watch and discuss with older children.
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars POWERFUL, October 24, 2006
By 
This review is from: Amistad (DVD)
All criticism aside, one of the most powerful statements against slavery and man's inhumanity towards his fellow man. It seems that when it comes to slavery and America's shameful past, we try to ignore that it ever happened. Too few films have portrayed the slave trade or the continued illegal slave trade, such as that of Spain's, that was still taking place then. No one wants to be reminded of that dark past, but we tend to stand tall concerning other issues, "lest we forget". And yes, Cinque was a man without a language in this foreign land, like any of us would have been. Hats off to Mr. Spielberg, for one of his most powerful works to date.
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Good Movie, Terrific Soundtrack, September 18, 1999
By A Customer
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This review is from: Amistad - DTS (DVD)
This DVD is another good example of the purpose of DTS. (Another good example is the DTS version of Apollo 13.) The sound effects and music in this film are wonderful.
The movie itself is quite good. It makes you think. It helps give another perspective on a terrible historical injustice.
The visuals are often quite stunning. I always remember the flag waving outside of a window in one of the courtroom scenes. That really stuck with me.
I enjoyed this film, even though it left me feeling rather sad.
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars History Re-written, August 10, 2003
This review is from: Amistad (DVD)
Great work by Hollywood, launched the career of Denzel, etc., etc., but DON'T TAKE THIS AS A HISTORY LESSON. The US Army outlawed the lash prior to the war. Spain banned slavery in 1650. The character played by Honsou did indeed return to Africa....where he himself became involved in the slave trade for profit & revenge! Go read "Prince Among Slaves" by Terry Alford for an accurate picture of slavery in that time and place.
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