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Case Number 00022

Buy Amistad at Amazon


DreamWorks // 1997 // 155 Minutes // Rated R
Reviewed by Chief Justice Sean McGinnis (Retired) // May 27th, 1999

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All Rise...

Editor's Note

Our review of Amistad (Blu-ray), published May 14th, 2014, is also available.

The Charge

Freedom is not given. It is our right at birth. But there are some moments when it must be taken.

Opening Statement

Sporting an all-star cast of academy award winners and Oscar nominations for music, costume design and cinematography, Amistad still failed to move me as a film.

The Evidence

As usual, Dreamworks serves up a visually appealing disc. The film is presented in a 1.85:1 aspect ratio and is anamorphically enhanced. The colors are outstandingly vivid and the picture is very, very clear. Visually, this disc is quite compelling.

The disc includes a theatrical trailer, production notes (which essentially parrot those included in the 4 page insert that comes with the disc) and a thirty minute making of featurette. The disc also includes some animated menu systems, which are quite enjoyable, if not visually stunning.

The audio is about as good as can be expected from this type of film. There are a few explosions which ill test your system a bit, but since it is not really an "action" movie per se, it will hardly test the limits of a good audio system. I am very pleased to see Dreamworks including both 5.1 and 2.0 audio tracks for those of us without Dolby Digital capability.

The Rebuttal Witnesses

My real problem here is the story. I found the film genuinely un-compelling. At 155 minutes, the film runs about 55 minutes too long. I fear Mr. Spielberg's deep feelings about the nature of this story was a bit misplaced, which is undoubtedly why it did not do as well at the box office as he had hoped. Essentially, Mr. Spielberg would have us believe that this story is about a man "fighting" for his freedom. Other than the mutiny at sea of the would-be slaves, I do not find this story to be too much of a fight on behalf of the Africans. Rather, I see this film as an example of a justice system that can, and often does, work regardless of the political pressures put upon it. For those of us who believe we see racial injustice at every turn, I recommend this film, if only as a history lesson that our justice system worked even in the early 1800s on blind principles of law. Perhaps it is not so today. Perhaps.

Moreover, I felt the acting was not really up to snuff, despite the rather outstanding cast. Even as a tremendous fan of Sir Anthony Hopkins' work, I felt his performance here was undeserving of the Best Supporting Oscar nomination it received. The rest of the cast, including Morgan Freeman, Nigel Hawthorne, Pete Postelthwait and Matthew McConaughey, has done better work. I guess Mr. Spielberg's gift has always been his ability to spot terrific stories, which makes terrific actors. I'm not sure. The bottom line is that this movie did not "work" for me on any level. It was too long, uninspiring and assumed too much. It is a great piece of history that should not necessarily be forgotten, but that's as far as it goes. For that reason, I applaud Mr. Spielberg and Debbie Allen for bringing it too the screen.

Closing Statement

Amistad is a long, slow movie, which is a bit too much over the top for my tastes. I was not moved by any of the characters or their characterizations. Too bad, because the story had potential.

The Verdict

The disc is acquitted. The film is guilty. Pay $200, do not pass go, go directly to jail. Mr. Spielberg can make the check out to DVD Verdict.

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Scales of Justice

Video: 90
Audio: 86
Extras: 83
Acting: 78
Story: 71
Judgment: 82

Perp Profile

Studio: DreamWorks
Video Formats:
• 1.85:1 Anamorphic
Audio Formats:
• Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (English)
• Dolby Digital 2.0 Surround (English)
• None
Running Time: 155 Minutes
Release Year: 1997
MPAA Rating: Rated R
• Drama

Distinguishing Marks

• Production Notes
• Cast and Filmmaker Bios'
• Theatrical Trailer
• Behind The Scenes Featurette


• IMDb

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