R Dir: Steven Spielberg | Paramount (Dreamworks) | 2h 35min
Plot: What’s it about?
La Amistad is a Spanish slave ship, which runs from the coastal regions of Africa to carry the human cargo to market. One fateful voyage, during an intense thunderstorm, the slaves manage to free themselves from their shackles, and stage a revolt. Their attempt is a success, and the fighting left the majority of the Spanish captors dead or well on their way to being that way. The slaves are unable to navigate the slave ship however, so they force a couple surviving captors to chart the passage back to their homes. But what they don’t know is that the ship isn’t headed back to Africa, instead it is sailing directly toward the American shore, and that’s where it lands. Once the remnants of the revolt are discovered, the slaves are arrested and charged with murder, sent to trial to face the consequences of their actions. The slaves have no ability to communicate with the officials, so chances of them proving their story are slim at best. But one lawyer (Matthew McConaughey) sees this as a chance to establish himself, and takes action, choosing one of the slaves, Cinque, to represent them all, and hires a translator to aid in the cause. But with all the political forces lining up against the slaves, can anything be done to restore the freedom of these men?
Amistad is a mediocre movie which if done by any other director would be ignored. But since Steven Spielberg is at the helm, Amistad managed to attain a high profile, no matter how hollow the movie itself is. After receiving endless praise for Schindler’s List, it’s more than obvious Spielberg tried to duplicate that success here, with failing results. This seems more fitting as a USA original picture than a Spielberg major motion picture. Now, don’t think the movie is all bad, because it’s not. But when compared to Schindler’s List, Amistad looks like a self-serving student film. In all honesty, I find the story, even if true, to be quite boring, and I don’t feel a movie was needed. In a novel or history book, this is a fine story, but a fine story doesn’t make a good movie. I think if you’re interested, you should give it a chance, but don’t expect another modern day classic, but this doesn’t even come close.
Amistad lacked superior writing and the story itself is quite dull, but the casting is very good, and is the only merit the film has to keep afloat. I mean, no one gives a bad performance here, but the whole thing never gels. While the actors give their best, the performances never meld together, and the characters are never explored much. So what could have been a stirring study of personalities, ended up a series of separate performances, which makes up an unrelated whole. The best performances come from Morgan Freeman (The Shawshank Redemption, Se7en), Anthony Hopkins (The Silence of the Lambs, Meet Joe Black), Djimon Hounsou (Gladiator), and Nigel Hawthorne (The Big Brass Ring, The Madness of King George). These actors seem to have that comfort in their roles that makes them realistic. The other performers turn in good acting, but lack that relaxed nature that would make them a little more believable. The cast also includes Anna Paquin (She’s All That, The Piano), Matthew McConaughey (EdTv, Dazed and Confused), David Paymer (Carpool, Payback), Stellan Skarsgard (Insomnia, Deep Blue Sea), and Pete Postlethwaite (Brassed Off, Animal Farm).
Video: How’s it look?
It’s hard to believe that this film is now over 15 years old, but as one of the initial Dreamworks films it’s held up nicely. The 1.85:1 AVC HD image has certainly benefitted from the Blu-ray transfer. Colors are rich and deep, blacks and contrast look strong and bold and detail has been noticeably improved off the previous DVD offerings. The entire film seems to have a more earth-toned palette to it, making way for a very natural look and feel. The interior shots, namely the courtroom, seem to have a bit more depth than the DVD counterpart. Amistad looks great on Blu-ray, as we might expect.
Audio: How’s it sound?
This was one of Dreamworks’ initial offerings on the then fledgling DVD format and if memory serves, it was offered in dual DTS and Dolby Digital formats with the DTS one having no special features. This Blu-ray features a DTS HD Master Audio soundtrack that pulls no punches and, quite simply, rocks. The thundering of the waves (and the thunder itself) against the boat shake the room. The LFE are heavily involved and offer that low end frequency that really makes the track pack a punch. Vocals are strong and crisp as well. Surrounds do their part as well. Add it all up and this is one robust soundtrack that delivers on all levels.
Supplements: What are the extras?
Only two scant extras are included.
- The Making of Amistad – Your run of the mill EPK that has some interviews with the cast and crew (notably Spielberg) taken from the DVD years ago.
- Theatrical Trailer – Shown in HD.