Review by Trent Russi
Steven Spielberg's 19th century courtroom drama about mutiny, slavery, and the right for freedom. Djimon Hounsou, Matthew McConaughey, Morgan Freeman, and Anthony Hopkins perform beautifully in this film about amutiny on a slave ship heading for The United States. Most of the film takes place in the courtroom, as many people claim the slaves as their own.
CharactersI start with acting. Now mind you that isn't the first thing I think of when I see this film. but I'll get to the juicier stuff in a second. I loved just about everyone in this film. I don't mean thecharacters, but rather how they were portrayed. First and foremost is Anthony Hopkins's portrayal of former president John Quincy Adams. While I know little of the president and cannot tell you whether Hopkins's portrayal is accurate or not, I can tell you that you forgetthat it is Hopkins under there. I like Hopkins as an actor, but generally I think his performances are very similar from one part to another. Exceptions are Silence of the Lambs andAmistad. He seems so incredibly old. Granted he was 60 when this movie was released, but he has done so much since then where his age doesn't seems to show (e.g. Hannibal, Reg Dragon, The Fastest Indian). Also I was much impressed with Djimon Hounsou and his character Cinque, as well as all of the actors portraying the enslaved. None of them spoke any English, and many (most? all?) had to learn Mende for the movie. Maybe it was the language. Maybe it was the fact, that there words usually weren't given subtitles. But I really felt these actors were of a completely different culture that I didn't understand. I understood their emotions from body language and the tones of their voice. And yet, I didn't always get it. Just as McConoughey's character didn't either. I this point I'm rambling. Suffice it to say that the acting was superb.
StoryThis is a very powerful story. What more can I really say. It is hard for me to really grasp its full power. It takes place in a timeI don't truly understand, to a people I do not understand. Being a white middle class man growing up in 1980s and 90s America, I know nothing of what this movie speaks. So while it moved me, I don't know how to react. I guess if nothing else, this helped remind that these conditions used to exist in the "free" United States, and in some people's minds, it still does. The story is not just about the bigger issue of slavery and freedom, but its about a small group of people. More precisely, it's about some individuals. This film really is a character piece, laid on top of a much bigger issue. I like that.
I enjoyed the film a great deal. It was powerful and magnificent.