A film by Steven Spielberg

Amistad is a fact based account of a 1839 revolt by African slaves on the slaveship La Amistad, and the legal trial in the United States over what exactly should be done with them after they were rescued (and imprisoned) on American soil. Amistad was Spielberg s first serious work since Schindler s List (not counting Jurassic Park 2 which was also released in 1997), and it should be counting among the best movies of 1997. It is a powerful film.

The central story is that of the African slaves. The movies focuses on one particular slave, Cinque (Djimon Honsou), so that we have someone to be interested in, and so that the human story of their experiences can be told. They were able to overthrow the slavers while on the slave ship, but their captive was able to sail them to America rather than back to Africa. Upon arrival in America, the slaves are promptly captured by American soldiers and imprisoned until their status can be ascertained. As the lawyer for the Africans, Baldwin (Matthew McConaughey) says in the movie, it is a matter of property. Who owns the slaves? The soldiers who captured the slaves claim ownership as salvage. The slavers claim ownership citing a legal purchase of the slaves in Cuba. The government of Spain claims ownership. The Africans say they are free men. Who owns the slaves? Are they legal property? This central question is what the movie revolves around and works towards answering. We learn the answer early in the movie, but the question is what can Baldwin prove before the courts, and will the courts listen to him?

Steven Spielberg did a good job in showing that this was not just a case of the white man jumping and rescuing the black man. That did exist here, but Spielberg showed just how central and important Cinque was, how his actions and his words were what helped the case for the Africans the most. All the while, Baldwin and Joadson (Morgan Freeman), a freed slave, are entreating former President John Quincy Adams (Anthony Hopkins) to become an advocate on behalf of the Africans.

As I mentioned earlier, this is a very powerful film. There is an extended sequence were Spielberg shows the experience of the slave ship and it is so horrible that I don t think I can put words to it. While Amistad may not rank quite as high as Schindler s List or Saving Private Ryan on the list of great movies, this is an excellent movie that deals with a subject usually ignored. This is a slower paced film, with more time spend talking and in the courtroom, but it is a very good one, too.

4.5 pugs out of 5