Amistad (1997) is a great movie (which I have on DVD) that I hadn’t watched in a quite a while and I’ve been thinking about it as I’ve been trying to “downsize” my collection in preparation for moving soon (hopefully). After reading the book, Anna’s Crossing for Revell Reads (review coming next week), where Amish families are on an ocean voyage and encounter a slave ship heading for the Americas from Africa, I thought it really was time to watch it again.
I had forgotten what a powerful movie this is. Based on a true story of a mutiny by slaves bound for the new world who let two seamen live on the promise they will take them home and are then betrayed and end up with the ship being retaken, and the Afrikans, now considered slaves, are imprisoned and charged with murder. Spain, the rescuing captains, the original sailors who survived the mutiny are all fighting over them in a court of law where a landmark legal decision is achieved, and the Afrikans are returned to their homeland.
This is a movie that captures the essence and horror of what it must have been like on a slave ship and then, to be in the American court system without power or rights speaking a language no-one understands. In addition, it highlights how the presidency could be used to try to manipulate the court system. Watching it again reminded me of what a clever, forceful politician John Quincy Adams (played wonderfully by Anthony Hopkins) was, and so underestimated. (I recently purchased The Adams Chronicles which I watched when they were first aired on PBS; I enjoyed it immensely and must watch it again soon, especially after watching Amistad.)
The sets in this movie were extremely well done and the music by John Williams terribly haunting. (Reminded me of the singing in Empire of the Sun — J.G. Ballard‘s semi-autobiographical story about the Japanese occupation of Shanghai.) The Afrikans who portrayed Mende tribesman in the “middle voyage” on the way over gave us visuals that producer Colin Wilson said would be “permanently imprinted in our minds, because we felt that we actually witnessed what the Afrikans were subjected to on their journey”. Matthew McConaughey‘s portrayal of the determined lawyer, Roger Baldwin, is inspired, as is Nigel Hawthorne‘s of President Martin Van Buren. But the most amazing performance is that of Djimon Hounsou as Cinqué for which he received a Golden Globe award.
If you have never seen this movie, you should make a point of seeing it now. It is absolutely amazing. * * * * *