Amistad, Amistad MovieReview, Movie Review, Rilm Review

Michael A. Maynez photo


The Spanish Galleon "La Amistad" has finally anchored at all your favorite local theatres, with a cargo and baggage that almost sinks her before she can find a safe harbor. Maybe a better title would have been "AMISStad". The court battle between author, Barbara Chase-Riboud and Steven Spielberg about who plagiarized who or what. She claims DreamWorks based copyright infringements of her book "Echo of Lions"; the book chronicles a real life revolt by a Sierra Leone slave by the name of Joseph Cinque. DreamWorks insists that they based their movie on history and l969 book "Black Mutiny" and that Chase-Riboud herself is a plagiarist of "Black Mutiny". How can you plagiarize history, which of course will be for the courts to decide? Already it makes for a more intriguing movie.

Remember when "Roots" the book turned TV mini-series had us all enslaved from episode to episode and we could hardly leave our sets. Well there were people and stories we cared about. Maybe "Amistad " should have been a mini-series. Somehow the two hours and thirty-four minutes seemed like an eternity at the movies. It might be better served in the History Channel. Mr. Spielberg must remember that he is not the conscience of the world. Never underestimate the intelligence of your audience, even if they play at the level of "The Lost World of Jurassic Park".

The high expectations that I had going in to view "Amistad" was that DreamWorks had assembled a cast that literally jumped up and down in bed like the Academy Award Winner, young actress from "The Piano" playing Queen Isabella, cute bit. Nigel Hawthorne, (The Madness of King George), David Payner, (former Academy Award Nominee), Pete Postlethwaite, (brilliant in "Brassed Off", hope he gets nominated for his performance in that movie) Stellan Skarsgård, ("Breaking the Waves"). Matthew McConaughey, in a Charles Dickens costume with Benjamin Franklin's glasses about ready to slide off his nose. He is lost here and can not find what volume of Charles Dickens books he belongs in. He is better described by the slaves as a dung scraper, substitute word for lawyer.

Morgan Freeman as abolitionist, carries the heaviest weight because of his skin color and that is bad. Djimon Hounsou as the slave leads us through the mambo jambo Mende language of Sierra Leone. He needs an interpreter to interpret his tongue and when that isn't enough we get the sub-titles, that worked so well for Kevin Costner in "Dances With Wolves", here if we had stayed a bit longer we would have learned Mende. His Cinque character is saved by the fact that he doesn't have to handle too much dialogue.

If I saved Anthony Hopkins for the last it is only that he pontificates for eleven minutes on the screen the merits of "All men created equal", "We have inalienable rights", "Freedom", "Constitution", etc. etc. etc. If they give him an Academy Award for this, it will be a sad day for the Academy. His performance reminded me a bit of Lawence Olivier playing "Othello" where you could still see the white ring of skin around his dark make-up. The legalese of the picture almost sinks the real story. If my mouth is foaming, it is because it left me with the taste of salt water in my mouth. This could have been a masterpiece, instead of flotsam and jetsam.

DreamWorks Pictures
Produced by: Steven Spielberg, Debbie Allen, Colin Wilson
Directed by: Steven Spielberg
With: Nigel Hawthorne, David Paymer, Pete Postlethwaite, Stellan Skarsgård
Executive producers: Walter Parkes, Laurie MacDonald
Costume designer: Ruthe E. Carter
Music by: John Williams
Film editor: Michael Kahn
Written by: David Franzoni
Production designer: Rick Carter
Director of photography: Janusz Kaminski
Rated: R
Release 10 December 1997

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Original Date Saturday 13 December 1997
Updated Saturday 13 December 1997