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Steven Spielberg's most simplistic, sanitized history lesson,Amistad, explores the symbolic 1840s trials of 53 West Africans following their bloody rebellion aboard a slave ship. For most ofSchindler's List(and, later,Saving Private Ryan) Spielberg restrains himself from the sweeping narrative and technical flourishes that make him one of our most entertaining and manipulative directors. Here, he doesn't even bother trying, succumbing to his driving need to entertain with beautiful images and contrived emotion. He cheapens his grandiose motives and simplifies slavery, treating it as cut- and-dry genre piece. Characters are easy Hollywood stereotypes--"villains" like the Spanish sailors or zealous abolitionists are drawn one-dimensionally and sneered upon. And Spielberg can't suppress his gifted eye, undercutting normally ugly sequences, such as the terrifying slave passage, which is shot as a gorgeous, well-lit composition. At its core,Amistadis a traditional courtroom drama, centered by a tired, clichéd narrative: a struggling, idealistic young lawyer (Matthew McConaughey) fighting the crooked political system and saving helpless victims. Worse yet, Spielberg actually takes the underlying premise of his childhood fantasy,E.T.and repackages it for slavery. Cinque (Djimon Hounsou), the leader of the West African rebellion, is presented much like the adorable alien: lost, lacking a common language, and trying to find his way home. McConaughey is a grown-up Elliot who tries communicating complicated ideas such as geography by drawing pictures in the sand or language by having Cinque mimic his facial expressions. Such stuff was effective for a sci-fi fantasy about the communication barriers between a boy and a lost alien; here, it seems like a naive view of real, complex history.--Dave McCoy
Runs the distance This film really struck deep with me. I'll find myself in some situation, and one or another line Adams' final speech will come drifting back to me. It has settled somehow in my inner repertoire of quotes... "I am that I am", "And miles to go before I sleep", "To be or not to be",... And yes... "Give us the courage to do what is right, and if it means civil war, then let it come."
I can do the whole thing. The movie even motivated me to go through the Supreme Court proceedings and look up the original.
If someone would argue that the film is superficial, doesn't really 'get' racism, then explain to me please why the question, "However, why are we here?" keeps haunting me? Tell me that? "How is it that a simple plain property issue finds itself so ennobled as to be argued before the Supreme Court of the United States of America?" What motivates us really to countenance what goes on in this world, and to persist in lying about it even to ourselves? "Why are we here?"
Why Are we here?
"We hold these truths to be self-evident..." Whether we intended it or not, those were the principles which settled in our hearts and upon which we resolved to try to found a nation. And no one can really doubt that this is the big issue that we must resolve before we can truly claim to have accomplished our mission. It is the task which God has put before us as a people... the last battle in the War of Independence is indeed the struggle which we still face within our own borders. The struggle has evolved and changed face even in my lifetime, but it persists.
"This is the most important case ever to come before this court, for what it in fact concerns is the very nature of man."
It's not some 60s flick about how bad we whites have been. It runs deeper than that. It's about the very nature of man.
Another "must see" for history students. As with all movies about history, I review them from the perspective of the history teacher and leave all of the other particulars to the other reviewers. In this case, however, I'd like to address the Amazon review (written by Dave McCoy) as well. McCoy states that the director (noneother than Steven Speilberg) feels compelled "to entertain with beautiful images and contrived emotion . . . [and] . . . cheapens his grandiose motives and simplifies slavery, treating it as cut- and-dry genre piece. Characters are easy Hollywood stereotypes--'villains' like the Spanish sailors or zealous abolitionists are drawn one-dimensionally and sneered upon." For the record, I'll say that I agree wholeheartedly---but in this case, an excellent movie still unfolds and a story that SHOULD be told is told! Also, let me address a fellow reviewer's (Leon Washington) remark that those who slam this movie are guilty of racism. I don't necessarily think that those who give this movie bad reviews are categorically racist, but I do think they may be missing the "big picture" here. Alright, let's get on with the review.
High school and college history teachers---this movie is a must see for numerous reasons. For one, Anthony Hopkins does a superb job (as expected) of portraying John Quincy Adams. His performance is worth the price of admission alone. Yet, many students may find his performance a bit boring. Herein lies the problem with the real history---this movie is based upon a real-life courtroom drama. Much of the movie is set within the courtroom and let's face it, most high school students will typically begin yawning. This is not necessarily so, however, with "Amistad." You see, it's the very fact that Speilberg DOES create sensationalism---"Hollywood moments" if you will---that saves this movie from being a yawner! It may be true that some characters are oversimplified villains, but all good movies have some sort of antagonist.
Many reviewers have trouble with Speilberg's portrayal of the events aboard the infamous slaveship, Secora. I disagree completely. This is a realistic depiction of what could happen on any given day aboard a "slaver." ****Note**** While riveting with its "shock and awe," young viewers (under 12) probably should not see these horrific scenes for the usual reasons.
There's no doubt that Speilberg takes a bit of poetic license when presenting this film. Who cares? This is a story that should be told and Speilberg does so excellently. Even political science students should see this since it also serves as a testimony of U.S. diplomacy and foreign policy during the mid-nineteenth century.
High school teachers, please don't exclude this great movie from your list based upon the negative reviews of critics. You'll be glad you showed it and your students will be all the wiser! Please show it within it's relative time period as well. In other words, don't just show it during Black History Month.
So, what should students LEARN from this movie?
First --- Students should be able to parallel the events of this drama with the events that would soon unfold in America (Civil War). In other words, they should be able to see how the decision of the Supreme Court would have been a victory for abolitionists and a defeat for pro-slavery advocates like John Calhoun.
Second --- Students should discuss the Monroe Doctrine in relation to our treaty with Spain. Does the U.S. violate her treaty, or are we following our own self-revealed destiny?
Third --- Students should use this movie as support for a discussion of how Great Britain attempted to enforce its ban on slavery and how Spain and Portugal attempted to continue slavery in their colonies.Amistad=GREAT FILM This film is a truly great film. It not only "tugs" at the heart strings but also gives one an insight into what the African people actually endured during the slaving period in history. This is perhaps one of the films that schools need to show during Black History Month as well as any time during the year. A definite story that needed to be told.