(1997)

Freedom is not given. It is our right at birth. But there are some moments when it must be taken.

In 1839, the slave ship Amistad set sail from Cuba to America. During the long trip, Cinque leads the slaves in an unprecedented uprising. They are then held prisoner in Connecticut, and their release becomes the subject of heated debate. Freed slave Theodore Joadson wants Cinque and the others exonerated and recruits property lawyer Roger Baldwin to help his case. Eventually, John Quincy Adams also becomes an ally.

Steven Spielberg took the helm for this rather classy, if very wordy, depiction of the celebrated legal battle that resulted from the mutiny of slaves aboard a Spanish ship in the late 1830s. A timely intervention from the US Navy rescued some of the crew, but then subjected the erstwhile cargo to an humiliating and debase battle for their "ownership". Roger Baldwin (Matthew McConaughey) takes up the cudgels on their behalf - at no small risk to himself, and with the assistance of former US President John Quincy Adams (Sir Anthony Hopkins) takes this principle all the way to the Supreme Court. It is most bizarre to watch this and even begin to contemplate a society in which the concept of one person, business, or nation claiming the possession of a human being is actually being discussed by rational people in a court of law, but here we have it. The film looks great, plenty of attention to the detail with the costumes and the sets but there is far too much incidental dialogue and the pace of the story seems more intent of delivering a story of epic length rather than meaningful drama. Sir Anthony delivers well in the last fifteen minutes with a most potent piece of oratory; this is probably the best effort we have yet seen from McConaughey and there are strong supporting roles from Sir Nigel Hawthorne (Van Buren); an impressive Djimon Hounsou - who has no English dialogue - as the leader of the incarcerated and Morgan Freeman also delivers well as he tries to facilitate the freedom and potential repatriation of these people back to modern day Sierra Leone. The moral and ethical issues here are writ large and presented in a well crafted, poignant and sometimes quite brutal fashion that make this a decent, if not great, film to watch.

DreamWorks Pictures by Steven Spielberg, David Franzoni.
Stars: Djimon Hounsou, Matthew McConaughey, Anthony Hopkins.

Genres: Biography, Drama, History

Keywords: cuba mutiny slavery sentence historical figure tall ship slave trade

12/25/1997

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