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on January 3, 2016
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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on June 24, 2016
I have never cried so hard in a movie before. It mostly takes place in the court room. Matthew McConnaughey is a lawyer who's trying to get the slaves "free" so they can go back to Africa. However, there are some scenes that are truly disgusting and heartbreaking. It really reminds you of the realness of slavery, and how horrid it was. I personally don't like sensationalized images of violence or abuse, I think they're unneccessary and problematic, but for the purposes of this film... I guess it was okay. Anyway, it's a great movie that adults (not children) should see. It's very gory and gruesome. My sister is 19 years old and is having nightmares so keep that in mind. It's only like 2 scenes but still, it's that bad. The anguish that these people experienced... No amount of reparations could ever cover over or heal the things we've done to God's children.
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on August 9, 2016
As all Steven Spielberg films, this is excellent beyond description. I've watched it before, and have the CD but my new computer "wants" an app to make all my movies play on it. But this movie is worth paying for to watch over and over again. The characterizations of each person in it, especially Cinque, is phenomenal. You are there with the supposed slaves as they suffer every indignity that the slavers and those who "claim" ownership of them can dish out. When Cinque cries out in court, "Give us, us free!" the emotion is just so raw that you want to kill every slaver and claimant of these unfortunate (it's worse than unfortunate) human beings. Bravo to Matthew McConnaughy who is one of the heroes of the story, an attorney who sees that this is a case of chattels being owned or not owned, and he goes to town proving that the enslaved Africans were never owned by anyone but themselves. It's a wonderful cast from Hopkins to Freeman, and a film that every child in the USA should watch when they are a teen, or a bit older even. There are some scenes...
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on July 23, 2016
As usual, Stephen Spielberg turns out a quality movie that takes us into the heart of the cause of freedom. Excellent storyline that tells us of the Amistad rebellion of 1839 when African slaves killed the crew of their slave ship and ended up on trial in New England. One of the events that turned the tide in the abolitionist movement and bringing the plight of slaves to Northerners, it cuts to the heart of our Revolution, and the meaning of liberty. The black actors give quality performances, and rend our hearts with their sorrows. Supporting them are Morgan Freeman, as a black abolitionist, Matthew McConaughey as their lawyer and Anthony Hopkins as John Quincy Adams who ultimately takes their case to the Supreme Court. Each of these are excellent in their portrayals. Jeremy Northam in a minor role as one of the judges is very good as well. Excellent movie.
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Steven Spielberg's "Amistad" 1997) is a film about a celebrated event in American history involving the fate of Africans on a Spanish slave ship "La Amistad" that came into the possession of the United States in 1839. I had some knowledge of the incident but wanted to see the movie after reading a new biography of John Quincy Adams,John Quincy Adams: American Visionary. Late in life while serving as a Congressman from Massachusetts, Adams served as co-counsel for the Africans in proceedings before the United States Supreme Court. He spoke eloquently for their freedom.

The events surrounding La Amistad are complex and were necessarily simplified for dramatic purposes in the movie. The film begins in the hold of the ship as a group of captured Africans succeed in breaking their chains. They kill most of the Spanish crew but leave the two ship owners alive to sail the ship back to Africa. The owners sail the ship to the American coast instead. The United States captures the ship and begins legal proceedings to determine what is to be done with what appear to be the mutinous slaves, the ship, and the two owners. The government of Spain claims a right to the slaves based in part on treaties. Great Britain wants the slaves freed. The United States through its waffling president at the time, Martin Van Buren, wants to support Spain.

The case is tried twice in Federal courts in New Haven Connecticut with the slaves represented by a rising young lawyer, Roger Baldwin. In both trials, Baldwin is able to show that the Africans were not escaped slaves but rather had been illegally captured and carried off from Sierra Leone. When the United States appeals the case to the Supreme Court, John Quincy Adams agrees to assist in the defense of the Africans. The Supreme Court rules in their favor, 8-1.

A popular movie such as "Amistad" is not held out as a documentary but is instead a mix of entertainment and history. With the basic background knowledge I brought to the film, I thought it generally succeeded as both, particularly as entertainment. The movie runs over 2.5 hours and held my attention throughout even though much of it is set in courtrooms. The movie includes some excellent special effects in scenery, including the initial rebellion on board the "Amistad", the scenes of cruelty and suffering on board an earlier slaver the "Tecora" which had abducted the prisoners from Africa, and the destruction of the Sierra Leone "slave fortress" by a British schooner at the end of the film. The acting is well done throughout with Anthony Hopkins capturing the character of the aged John Quincy Adams. Dijimon Honsou portrays Cinque, the leader of the captured Africans. Matthew McConaugey is effective as the young, tough minded attorney Baldwin while Peter Posthalwaite portrays the United States attorney, Holabird. Morgan Freeman plays an escaped slave, Theodore Joadson, who works with an abolitionist group in the defense of the case. The then former Supreme Court Justice, Harry Blackmun has a brief role portraying Justice Joseph Story, who delivered the opinion in the "Amistad" case.

On a historical level, Hopkins' crusty, curmudgeonly John Quincy Adams did a good job capturing both what I understand of his character and his basic role in the "Amistad" proceedings. For the rest, the movie should be taken as accurate only in its broadest sense as involving the fate of the captured Africans, the legal proceedings, and the background in slavery. The character of Joadson, for example, is fictitious, and the threat in the film of Senator John Calhoun that the South would secede in the event of a court ruling in favor of the Africans is drawn from air. The proceeding was more about the outlawed international slave trade than about domestic slavery in the United States. The Court that ruled in favor of freedom for the Africans consisted largely of Southerners. Although a great oversimplification, the film properly emphasized the role the case ultimately assumed in the conflict over slavery, the importance of the case in the protection of separation of powers, and John Quincy Adams' role in the defense. Adams' appearance and presentation before the Court were courageous and invaluable. The legal arguments on which the Africans secured their freedom were developed and presented by Baldwin, in both the lower courts and the Supreme Court, as the film properly shows. With its inaccuracies, "Amistad" offers a valuable popular approach to this historical incident for the overwhelming number of people who otherwise would have little or no knowledge. Perhaps the film serves as encouragement to some to pursue a historical interest further through reading.

I learned a great deal from reading the varied Amazon reviews of "Amistad". Many reviewers thoroughly liked the film. Other reviewers were critical of various aspects of the entertainment or aesthetic value of the movie while still others were critical of its presentation of history. I liked the movie and think it valuable for entertainment and basic history. With guidance and discussion, the film could serve as a simple effective teaching tool for secondary school students.

Robin Friedman
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on March 20, 2018
A beautiful film that demonstrates the harsh realities of slavery yet preserves the dignity of those who underwent it. This film shows the beauty of the human spirit and how it can and will win over evil even under the worst of circumstances. Slavery was and is a desperate and ugly business in the world- but it need not crush those who are shackled. This story is about a group of slaves who were illegally captured and sold and brought to the USA. A young American lawyer gets involved to free them and attempts to work with one slave who assumes the role of leader. Eventually, ex president Adams even gets involved. This is loosely based on a true story about a slave ship called the Amistad. You will triumph and cry. It's wonderful!
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on October 15, 2017
This movie is still amazingly powerful 20 years later. I saw it when it came out, and just rewatched it with my 15 yr old who is taking AP history this year. Great portrait of the tensions pre-civil war, as well as the pain and horrors of the middle passage. There are some incredibly hard to watch bloody sections, but most of the film is courtroom and face to face drama. core message still important today... about Freedom as the core human state and best vision of our nation being a recognition of the rights of individuals to that freedom as well as the importance of the division of power of the judicial, executive, and legislative branches.
Acting is great by all of cast.
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on June 30, 2015
It was actually a much better movie than I anticipated. A lot of historical dramas get so bogged down in the details, and even though this has a fairly long running time, I was very caught up in the story and didn't notice the time. One thing I didn't like is that when the Africans are speaking in their native tongue(s) there were not always subtitles, and I didn't like having to guess at what they were saying. The acting was superb, especially by Djimon Hounsou. He has one line in particular about his ancestors that the writing just blew me away. It didn't seem "dated," and historical dramas can feel that way, even though they are about, well, history. This film seemed like it could have been made a year ago. Smartly done.
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on October 31, 2017
I remember watching this when it first came out. It was mandatory for a class I was in. I was floored then and didn't truly grasp some of the underlying messages at the time. Watching it again today gave some of the things being said a clearer meaning. 20 years ago, this was just another slave movie to me. It was just a class project. It was homework. I missed all of the lessons. I cried both times for different reasons. A fight for freedom and to be recognized. A fight still being fought today. That story took place in 1839...178 years ago. It's crazy that this is still the fight.
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on March 18, 2014
I loved this movie! In my opinion this movie was a masterpiece. A beautiful work of art. I recommend that everyone watch this movie. The cinematography was beautiful, the period costumes were beautiful, the sentiment was beautiful, the acting superb. John Quincy Adams' words were beautiful and so profound. One of the most touching movies I've ever seen and one of my favorites of all time. It would have been more beautiful if the outcome for the slaves had been better, but I don't believe there was ever a good outcome for any of America's slaves, freed or not. This was a small bright spot in a very dark period in America's history.
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