Amistad is the kind of movie that makes a tired topic seem fresh and entertaining again. It tells the true story of a French slave ship called La Amistad and the mutiny that occured on it. When the ship finally reaches America, the slaves responsible for the mutiny (led by Cinque, played with incredible power by the impressive newcomer Djimon Hounsau) are to stand trial for murder. To defend the slaves is a young, ambitious lawyer named Baldwin, played by Matthew McCougnaghey, whom I hate with all my soul. Nevertheless, he gives a respectable performance.

The movie features a few painfully forced scenes, like Cinque shouting “Give us free!” in the middle of the trial. The character seems to self-contained to do such a thing. But that’s a minor complaint. Amistad is a wonderful film. Steven Spielberg again shows his uncanny ability to make a serious film very entertaining. Anthony Hopkins, as president John Quincy Adams, shows exactly why he is probably the best actor out there right now. And the remarkable Hounsau, while new to the English language is great as the battered slave, giving us a character to really sympathize with.

But perhaps the best thing about Amistad is Spielberg’s direction. He doesn’t preach to us, he doesn’t judge right or wrong. He simply puts facts out on the table. There are no “villains” in this movie, as all of the people that argue against the slaves are never portrayed as evil or malicious. President Martin Van Buren, who constantly tries to manipulate things so the Africans do not win isn’t acting any worse than any modern politician would, because he is only trying to get reelected. District Attorney Holibird, who is the prosecutor is a very intelligent man, not manipulative in any way.

There is no point to prove for Spielberg here. Because anyone can side with the good guys, have them triumph and then live happily ever after. But Amistad has a quiet and somber ending, no “happily ever after”. It’s easy to make heroes and villains. But to simply tell a story, unbiased and impartial…. The lack of filmmakers that can do that may be the biggest problem in today’s cinema.

-- Eugene Novikov

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Screening Log


Ric Roman Waugh, 2013

Score: C

Side Effects

Steven Soderbergh, 2013

Score: C+

10 Years

Jamie Linden, 2012

Score: B-

The Place Beyond the Pines

Derek Cianfrance, 2013

Score: B+

Warm Bodies

Jonathan Levine, 2013

Score: C

Beautiful Creatures

Richard LaGravanese, 2013

Score: B-

The Window

Ted Tetzlaff, 1949

Score: B+

The Chase

Arthur Ripley, 1946

Score: B

Street of Chance

Jack Hively, 1942

Score: C

The Taste of Money

Im Sang-Soo, 2013

Score: C+

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