- 2 hr 32 min
In 1839, the Amistad was a Spanish slave ship transporting a group of Africans from Sierra Leone to Cuba. One night the Africans rebelled, taking control of the ship, and freeing themselves from their captors. The Amistad sailed in the direction of the United States, but it was intercepted by the U.S. Navy and the African captives were imprisoned while the ship owners and the Spanish government sought possession of the ship and the Africans as personal property.
Amistad tells the true story of this court case and the efforts of a group of abolitionists to gain freedom for the Africans. The story is told mainly through the eyes of Cinque (Djimon Hounsou), the leader of the revolt on the Amistad, who steadfastly refuses to be intimidated even when brought before President Martin Van Buren.
The lead abolitionist lawyer in the case, Roger Baldwin (Matthew McConaughey), is initially reluctant to take on the cause, but he is convinced to do so by Theodore Joadson (Morgan Freeman), an African American abolitionist. Baldwin takes up the case as a way to further his own career, but his involvement with the Africans leads him to become more passionate about the abolitionist cause.
The legal proceedings take place in a federal district court, where Baldwin and his team argue that the Africans should be set free because they were illegally enslaved. However, the Spanish government, represented by Queen Isabella II's lawyer (Derrick O'Connor) and a team of American attorneys, insists that the Africans are rightfully their property and must be returned to Cuba.
The case goes all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court, where former president John Quincy Adams (Anthony Hopkins) is enlisted by Baldwin to argue for the Africans' freedom. Adams' emotional, moving and incredibly powerful speeches in the Supreme Court come at a crucial moment, and he successfully wins the case, arguing that the Africans are free people who have been illegally enslaved.
Throughout the movie, we see the Africans' journey from being captives to being activists, united by the desire to regain their freedom. They are illiterate and do not speak English, yet they have innate intelligence and an innate sense of justice, which they convey through Cinque, who helps Baldwin understand the depth of their suffering and plight.
Additionally, the film touches on the power dynamics between Europeans and Africans, and the act of one group attempting to enslave another. Amistad reminds us that the world was shaped by the violence and bloodshed of colonialism, imperialism and slavery.
The film features beautiful, heart-wrenching performances by the cast, with Hounsou in particular delivering a standout performance. McConaughey, Freeman and Hopkins are all impressive, featuring in powerful scenes that bring an emotional and intellectual depth to the story. The film features stirring moments, such as when Cinque first addresses the Supreme Court in Mende and his translator tells them that he does not speak English, thereby forcing them to listen to him, to Baldwin's transformation from lawyer to abolitionist, to the fury Adams feels as he confronts his colleagues' lukewarm response to the case.
Director Steven Spielberg masterfully captures the raw emotion behind the court case, yet is careful to keep the story at a respectful distance. The visuals are breathtaking, the tone is accurate and the score by John Williams is appropriately evocative. Spielberg's prowess is evident in the way he seamlessly navigates the drama of the plot, the intense legal wrangling, the terrifying truth of slavery and the pain of bigotry.
In conclusion, Amistad is an unforgettable film that offers an important glimpse into a crucial moment in American history. It offers a touching, emotional and moving account of the Amistad slave rebellion and its repercussions on American history. The film portrays the African captives as human beings, reducing them from being mere property to being people with rights and dignity, worth fighting for. It's a film worth watching for those who appreciate history, as well as those who appreciate quality acting and filmmaking.
Amistad is a 1997 drama with a runtime of 2 hours and 32 minutes. It has received moderate reviews from critics and viewers, who have given it an IMDb score of 7.3 and a MetaScore of 63.