Reviewed by: W.J. Kimble
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