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4.4 out of 5 stars 681 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

Product Description

From director Steven Spielberg comes an epic journey of one man's fight for his life and his freedom. Brought to life by an acclaimed all-star cast, this story of courage and determination is presented by a director whose vision goes to the heart of the story and the soul of its characters. Once again, Spielberg has created a film event that will never be forgotten.


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

Special Features

  • Behind-the-scenes featurette

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
  • Region: Region 1 (U.S. and Canada only. Read more about DVD formats.)
  • Aspect Ratio: 1.85:1
  • Number of discs: 1
  • Rated:
  • Studio: Dreamworks Video
  • DVD Release Date: May 4, 1999
  • Run Time: 155 minutes
  • Average Customer Review: 4.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (681 customer reviews)
  • ASIN: 0783231202
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #4,074 in Movies & TV (See Top 100 in Movies & TV)
  • Learn more about "Amistad" on IMDb

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

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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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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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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Format: DVD Verified Purchase
Having read “John Quincy Adams” by Robert V. Remini which features an account of JQA’s concern for human rights and his efforts in winning the freedom of thirty-nine African captives aboard the slave schooner Amistad, I knew I had to get this DVD. It’s a powerful drama that underscores the cruel and inhuman acts of converting innocent free men and women into slaves. The movie features the courtroom drama of what it took to free these captives, and the role played by Adams. It’s a case of noblesse oblige at its very best—men of high station helping those caught up in a living nightmare, of disinfecting a monstrous miscarriage of justice with the judicious light of truth. Adams points to the Declaration of Independence as his clients’ greatest defense—All men are created equal. The cast is special—Morgan Freeman, Djimon Hounsou, Matthew McConaughey, and the perfectly cast Anthony Hopkins as the wise and discerning John Quincy Adams. This is movie making at its absolute finest.
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