Movie Review

Amistad

Reviewed by: W.J. Kimble
CONTRIBUTOR

Very Offensive
Moviemaking Quality:

Primary Audience:
Adults
Genre:
Drama
Length:
135 min.
R

Starring: Anthony Hopkins, Morgan Freeman, Matthew McConaughey, Djimon Hounsou, Nigel Hawthorne, Pete Postlethwaite / Director: Steven Spielberg / Released by: DreamWorks

Based on a true story, “Amistad” is the saga of 53 Africans, whose failed mutiny, eventual capture and ensuing trial led to one of our nations most poignant and riveting challenges to our nations democratic principles, as stated by our founding fathers in the Declaration of Independence.

It begins on a stormy night off the coast of Cuba, where Cinque (Djimon Hounsou), and his fellow African slaves break free from their shackles and take over the Spanish slave ship La Amistad. Attempting to sail back to Sierra Leone, West Africa, and lacking navigational skills, they land off the coast of Connecticut, where they are arrested by the U.S. Navy and quickly charged with murder and piracy.

The insistent dignity of abolitionist Theodore Joadson (Morgan Freeman) and the young real estate attorney, Roger Baldwin (Matthew McConaughey, from “A Time To Kill”), elucidate the power of the human spirit as they take on the monumental task of seeking justice for these unfortunate souls. The ensuing trial involves the government of Spain, who protests the violation of their property rights; the South, which relies heavily on slavery; former U.S. president, John Quincy Adams (Anthony Hopkins), who comes out of retirement to take on the African’s cause, which eventually goes all the way to the Supreme Court; and the current president, Martin Van Buren (Nigel Hawthorne, from “The Madness of King George”).

Throughout the trial, the Africans show tremendous dignity and determination. The compelling narrative of their captivity, as told by Cinque, is not only traumatic but dramatically reveals the horrors that those who were put into slavery had to face. And the climatic address that John Quincy Adams makes before the Supreme Court dramatizes the power of our Constitution and the liberties that it provides us.

“Amistad” inspires the viewer to treasure freedom and to be grateful to our forefathers for the commitment they made when declaring that all men have the right to pursue happiness and to live life to its fullest, free from tyranny and oppression. It also reveals just how cruel men can be when they no longer fear God.

As a Christian, I was enthralled with Spielberg’s ability to show how one slave’s struggle to understand his plight led him to peruse through a Bible and discover, via the pictures contained therein, the Gospel story. His description of Christ’s life, death and resurrection is inspiring. The power of this moment so enraptured my soul that I was held spellbound as he continued to share with Cinque the joys that would be theirs even if they were to die. For he believed that they too would ascend to heaven and live with Christ. [Please note that Spielberg fell short of saying that they needed to repent and be saved].

“Amistad” is a movie of epic proportions; yet it is not for everyone to see. It is rated “R” due to brutal violent scenes and for “related” nudity. I want to warn you, although the nude scenes are relevant to the story they do contain full frontal, male and female nudity.

Year of Release—1997

Viewer Comments
A very underrated movie!!
Amistad is a powerful epic. Lost completely amidst the hype of Titanic when it was released, and insensibly given below average reviews by Hollywood critics, Amistad is best picture material with powerful statements about our deepest values. Hollywood looks after itself I guess, and there’s a lot more money to be made flaunting Leonardo DiCaprio than facing social immorality.

I was expecting an inferior imitation of Roots based on critics reviews, but the comments on this page gave me another angle to investigate. And how true!!

The story (admittedly disturbing to watch at times) is gutwrenching, the script and acting superb, the character development captivating, and the morals questioned completely profound. I’ll never take my freedom for granted again! And how easy the heads of our country can take that freedom away, if left unchallenged!

This movie is a must see. Some scenes may need to be fastforwarded, but the messages in this movie should not be missed. “We are what we were,” says a protagonist. We are free and believe in freedom because others before us fought for it and believed in it first. Spiritually, this leads us straight to Christ.

And believe it or not, Spielberg directly presents the Gospel in Amistad in a powerful manner. Maybe that is why the critics disapproved.
—Todd Adams, age 30
Many viewers of the movie will see no relevance of the sequence in which the story was eloquently told of the Son of God coming to earth, dying for our sins and resurrected in glory. Contemporary popular culture does not recognize the influence that the church (and more importantly the gospel message) had in changing the consciences and hearts of people to effect the American slave’s emancipation. I suspect many viewers will also fail to see the parallel between the slaves' plight and the christian gospel message.

Revisionist historians have tried for many years to disconnect the role of the church in the abolitionist movement. Suprisingly, the movie “Amistad” boldly suggests that the slaves' long journey to freedom was possibly in the hands of a higher power, whether that was Jesus Christ or Cinque’s African ancestors. It is a credit to the screenwriters and producers of Amistad that they included this sequence

They resisted the temptation to create a “formula” film catering to the approval and popularity of the public and the critics, possibly even the Academy. Not since “Chariots of Fire” has a major secular movie incorporated or recognized the power of the gospel message. Will this cost “Amistad” an academy award nomination?
T.J.Peacock, age 51
Thanks for providing this service to Christians—The Hollywood Rating System is suspect for those of us who are trying to guide our children with wisdom and discernment—It is helpful to find out what other Christians think after really seeing the movie and not depending on the previews and hype from Hollywood—There is no doubt that Steven Spielberg makes entertaining movies and that the stories of African heroism should be told—However, Christians have been warned by Michael Medved in “USA Today”-Tuesday, December 9, 1997, that Spielberg and the DreamWorks company have rewritten history and are promoting an educational curriculum that teaches this “revised” view of the incidents—This Amistad Learning Kit has been sent to thousands of high school educators and administrators to integrate the lessons of this landmark film into class curriculums—This goes too far!

We do not need to have racist history books corrected by fictional accounts—Let the truth be told and not be fabricated by either whites or blacks—Let viewers and parents beware!
—Terry Craig
The “R” rating and spotlight rating were, I believe, misleading. Any violence, nudity, or other harsh aspects of this movie were not for entertainment value, but to tell a story, a true story, that was long overdue for being told. I am a Christian, and after discussing the content of the movie with several people, took my nine year old son. he had many questions which I was glad and prepared to discuss with him.

I was also particularly impressed with the Christian theme which ran throughout the movie. it helps to explain the spreading of Christianity to African and it also illuminates how Christian play such a central theme to the generations of Blacks who were slaves in America and how their belief in Christianity helped them live through slavery, escape slavery, and to this day live in the U.S. I highly recommend this movie to everyone.it will touch your soul.
—Pequot
…I am perplexed as to how my fellow Christian reviewers could give Amistad a 2½! It escapes all reason! I can’t remember when, if ever, I’ve seen such a powerfully moving portrayal of the Word of God in a major motion picture! As for the reviews which speak to the historical accuracy of the film, after viewing “Amistad,” I for one am intrigued to find out more.

Without this film, I may never have known that this important event occurred. History is the best teacher and a good historian knows it is most prudent to read documents that give a first-hand account. A biography penned by one of the participants in the matter would be ideal. It is easily verified that John Quincy Adams did speak these words and that this case did occur. Mr. Spielberg’s dramatic license really is not THE issue, especially since it is widely known that all in the arts/media do the same, using this license as a tool in their craft.

It is up to us to do our homework and verify the truth, employing as many credible resources as possible. “Amistad” is such a wonderful film that I desire to take the suggestion of one of the reviewers and take my 8 yr. old son and 10 yr. old daughter to see this movie.

During the brief but graphic violence I will cover their precious eyes and ears. Then they too can experience this deeply moving masterpiece!! Praise God that He has chosen this vehicle and this masterful filmmaker to deeply move and entertain us all. Perhaps God has not completely forsaken Hollywood after all!
—Dahna Propst, age 33
Spielberg has created his best movie so far. Amistad is an epic. I appreciate the reference to “relevant” nudity. The scene isn’t about nude people… it’s about the atrocities that the slaves endured. If you are hung up on the nudity, you’re missing the broken-heart you should be feeling as you watch men and women being dragged to the bottom of the ocean. Those people didn’t die of drowning, their bodies imploded as they reach enormous oceanic depths. This movie will outrage you, inspire you, and make you weep.
—ShineFM
…Whether or not “Amistad” is or isn’t a great cinematic event is one thing… but “history”???! Steven Spielberg is a movie director, he is not a historian. He write movies to reflect his own “personal” opinion of certain historical event, and he rewrites history to make movies exciting (look at his other movies as well).

His movies, exciting or not, are extremely loosely based on truth and real historical events. How long will God’s people continue to be led around in the dark by movie magicians today?? This movie is FICTION, extreme fiction, based on a real event. Go to the movie? Sure, if you want to reward this man for revising history and misleading people. Enjoy the movie? Sure, as long as you keep your “senses” intact. Be educated by this movie? NO! If you want an education, do the research.

Don’t go pay $6 and sit down in front of a movie screen and come out thinking you’ve been enlightened! Life just isn’t that simple… look how many people went to see the “Last Supper” and came out thinking that Jesus was a homosexual!!

We would all think these people are a bit lame to be led so far astray… and that the makers of this movie should be flogged. Don’t make the same mistake these people made. A movie is a movie. And you will NOT find truth or answers to life or history… in Hollywood.
—KJ
As an African American Christian, I must say that this was a well made film. I could look at the history behind the film and not be offended. It showed both human tragedy and triumph. The Christian theme throughout the movie really impressed me. The cast is superb. Anthony Hopkins and Djimon Hounsou were really good. I hope this movie gets the credit it deserves. It’s a must see!!!
—John Traylor, age 32
Is Steven Spielberg the king of Cinema or what?! another compelling, facinating, powerful day at the office for Mr. Spielberg. this was a very good movie. the scene when the slave is explaining the Gospel to Cinque was awesome! I was very surprised and elated by Spielberg’s inclusion of this scene. great great great film.
—Chris Utley, age 25
An incredibly powerful film. It captures the ambiguity of human nature (both dignity and depravity) in a way that very few movies are able to. From a Christian perspective this is as close as secular movies will likely ever come to recognizing the empathy that Christ can have with human suffering at any level. The acting was superb. This is definitely the best movie since “Schindler’s List” and maybe even better than that.
—Kebreaux
A must see movie. I still don’t understand why Steven Spielberg added the Christian elements to the movie when they weren’t necessary, but as a Christian, I was overly joyed to see them in the movie. I also enjoyed the fact that this movie was not taken from a biased “black” point of view or a biased “white” point of view, but rather pointed out that we have all been persecuted in some way. There was no swearing, sex, rape, innuendoes, or the like. The nudity was portrayed as “National Geographic” might portray it, and was not sensual in any way. I highly recommend this movie.
—Steve Sorensen
…The nudity is relevant to the story and extremely brief in my opinion… The movie is a masterpiece. Everyone should see it. Take yourself and your children. Cover their precious eyes/ears for the 2 mins of nudity, and the 3 minutes of violence.
—Jason, age 32
A great film built on quality acting, story line and drama. The value of human life and the virtue of principled courage in the face of personal sacrifice are two traits lifted up in this story. The segment where one man tries to explain the life of Christ by the pictures in a Bible is moving. An “adult film” in the best sense of the term. I saw Amistad in a large theater in South Calif. When the show was over the audience applauded.
—Leo, 48
A towering achievement from Spielberg! This was not a “Schindler’s List” about slaves as I was lead to believe. No, it was “history”. History you wanted to stay awake for. Most critics say that the newcomer who played the main character, Cinque, was the shining star in this picture. However, I must say that Anthony Hopkins stole the scenes. He plays ex-president John Quency Adams to such a degree that when he left the scene, I was hoping it would cut right back to him. His last monologue will challenge you and just flat out wow you. The other actors were just as brilliant and moving—I just have a spot for Sir Anthony. Go see this movie. you’ll learn something. you’ll be dazzled by Spielberg’s imaginative direction. If the first scene doesn’t grab you, you’ve seen too many movies!
—Jeffrey James