7.32 h 34 min1997X-RayR
In 1839 an African slave leads a mutiny against his brutal captors on the ship Amistad. But the slaves' fates fall into the hands of an early American justice system until former president John Quincy Adams takes up their cause.
Steven Spielberg
Djimon HounsouMatthew McConaugheyAnthony Hopkins
English [CC]
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Steven SpielbergDebbie AllenColin Wilson
R (Restricted)
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4.7 out of 5 stars

3057 global ratings

  1. 84% of reviews have 5 stars
  2. 9% of reviews have 4 stars
  3. 4% of reviews have 3 stars
  4. 1% of reviews have 2 stars
  5. 2% of reviews have 1 stars
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Top reviews from the United States

LaVerneReviewed in the United States on October 15, 2017
5.0 out of 5 stars
Great portrait of the tensions pre-civil war
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This movie is still amazingly powerful 20 years later. I saw it when it came out, and just rewatched it with my 15 yr old who is taking AP history this year. Great portrait of the tensions pre-civil war, as well as the pain and horrors of the middle passage. There are some incredibly hard to watch bloody sections, but most of the film is courtroom and face to face drama. core message still important today... about Freedom as the core human state and best vision of our nation being a recognition of the rights of individuals to that freedom as well as the importance of the division of power of the judicial, executive, and legislative branches.
Acting is great by all of cast.
20 people found this helpful
Pamela J ParizoReviewed in the United States on July 24, 2016
5.0 out of 5 stars
The heart of freedom
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As usual, Stephen Spielberg turns out a quality movie that takes us into the heart of the cause of freedom. Excellent storyline that tells us of the Amistad rebellion of 1839 when African slaves killed the crew of their slave ship and ended up on trial in New England. One of the events that turned the tide in the abolitionist movement and bringing the plight of slaves to Northerners, it cuts to the heart of our Revolution, and the meaning of liberty. The black actors give quality performances, and rend our hearts with their sorrows. Supporting them are Morgan Freeman, as a black abolitionist, Matthew McConaughey as their lawyer and Anthony Hopkins as John Quincy Adams who ultimately takes their case to the Supreme Court. Each of these are excellent in their portrayals. Jeremy Northam in a minor role as one of the judges is very good as well. Excellent movie.
20 people found this helpful
Miz Alex Reviewed in the United States on May 4, 2021
2.0 out of 5 stars
Surely Spielberg‘s worst
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Before anyone jumps on me for giving a movie about the smuggling of slaves in chains headed for slavery a low mark, I want to make sure that my words are intended for the cinematic product only. This was a one and a quarter hour product stretched excruciatingly into two hours. The script was stilted, completely without fluidity or literary intelligence. Anthony Hopkins was put in a role as retired president John Quincy Adams. He is made up to look like someone who has been sleeping in his clothes under a bridge devoid of things like soap and a comb. He does virtually nothing but stagger, stoop and speak empty pointless lines. In my opinion the real acting triumph was that of Matthew McConaughey. He is a skilled, talented and nuanced actor who as we know has gone on to greater things. I happened to be on scene when the film used Mystic Seaport as its substitute nautical scenery and period backdrop for many scenes. I even saw Spielberg‘s fuzzy head from a distance. There was much hope for this movie and a replica of the Amistad remained at the Seaport for some time as a tourist attraction. Who can fail to see the need for a movie like this. Not me. My heart bleeds for the victims of the slave trade and the gruesome suffering they were caused not to mention the grief of being ripped from their homelands. Unfortunately I think this movie butchered an opportunity to tell a fascinating story of a slave ship that mutinied on the high seas and found themselves in a New Haven court room defending their right to remove the chains and shackles on their bodies. Man’s inhumanity to man. I wouldn’t mind seeing another version of this chapter in history told with the same finesse as “Lincoln,“ a Spielberg triumph. Well, I was not riveted, far from it, but maybe you will be.
2 people found this helpful
JoReviewed in the United States on July 19, 2019
5.0 out of 5 stars
Excellently done and tells inexpendable historical story!
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This is a story in history that I never learned in school. I hope it is being taught in schools somewhere and I'm glad this movie was made so the story can be reached by many. It was beautifully told and really reveals, without holding back, the atrocities that occurred with slavery at the time. But it is hopeful to see all of the laws that have already been set in place to protect against slavery, specifically, and of course the basic principals of justice and freedom that are stated in the Declaration of Independence and Constitution. Yet since slavery hadn't yet been eradicated in the U.S. due to resistance from the southern states it was still a heated and controversial debate at the time. How everything plays out in this story is a real tribute to the genius of how this country's government was set up, and yet also exposes the potential flaws due to corrupt people. This is a very bittersweet story from American History that all should know.
5 people found this helpful
joel wingReviewed in the United States on March 15, 2021
5.0 out of 5 stars
1 of the great depictions of the slave trade in midst of court case for freedom
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Djimon Hounsou helps lead a revolt on a slave ship in the middle of the Atlantic. They take control of the boat and end up in New England where they’re put on trial. Their case becomes disputed between several parties. The movie, which is based upon a real event follows two abolitionists played by Stellan Skarsgard and Morgan Freeman who hire a lawyer played by Matthew McConaugh to defend the Africans with the hope of freeing them. They end up going against the U.S. government which wants to maintain slavery.

Hounsou really shines in his role. There’s a powerful moment in court when he calls out for his freedom. McConaugh as the lawyer is also good. John Quincy Adams played by Anthony Hopkins gives the big speech at the end but I didn’t find it that great. The most compelling part of the film is its depiction of the Africans being enslaved and the passage across the Atlantic. It’s horrifying.
One person found this helpful
Ricardo MioReviewed in the United States on January 3, 2016
5.0 out of 5 stars
Noblesse Oblige
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Having read “John Quincy Adams” by Robert V. Remini which features an account of JQA’s concern for human rights and his efforts in winning the freedom of thirty-nine African captives aboard the slave schooner Amistad, I knew I had to get this DVD. It’s a powerful drama that underscores the cruel and inhuman acts of converting innocent free men and women into slaves. The movie features the courtroom drama of what it took to free these captives, and the role played by Adams. It’s a case of noblesse oblige at its very best—men of high station helping those caught up in a living nightmare, of disinfecting a monstrous miscarriage of justice with the judicious light of truth. Adams points to the Declaration of Independence as his clients’ greatest defense—All men are created equal. The cast is special—Morgan Freeman, Djimon Hounsou, Matthew McConaughey, and the perfectly cast Anthony Hopkins as the wise and discerning John Quincy Adams. This is movie making at its absolute finest.
15 people found this helpful
robin friedmanReviewed in the United States on January 12, 2014
4.0 out of 5 stars
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Steven Spielberg's "Amistad" 1997) is a film about a celebrated event in American history involving the fate of Africans on a Spanish slave ship "La Amistad" that came into the possession of the United States in 1839. I had some knowledge of the incident but wanted to see the movie after reading a new biography of John Quincy Adams,[[ASIN:0061915416 John Quincy Adams: American Visionary]]. Late in life while serving as a Congressman from Massachusetts, Adams served as co-counsel for the Africans in proceedings before the United States Supreme Court. He spoke eloquently for their freedom.

The events surrounding La Amistad are complex and were necessarily simplified for dramatic purposes in the movie. The film begins in the hold of the ship as a group of captured Africans succeed in breaking their chains. They kill most of the Spanish crew but leave the two ship owners alive to sail the ship back to Africa. The owners sail the ship to the American coast instead. The United States captures the ship and begins legal proceedings to determine what is to be done with what appear to be the mutinous slaves, the ship, and the two owners. The government of Spain claims a right to the slaves based in part on treaties. Great Britain wants the slaves freed. The United States through its waffling president at the time, Martin Van Buren, wants to support Spain.

The case is tried twice in Federal courts in New Haven Connecticut with the slaves represented by a rising young lawyer, Roger Baldwin. In both trials, Baldwin is able to show that the Africans were not escaped slaves but rather had been illegally captured and carried off from Sierra Leone. When the United States appeals the case to the Supreme Court, John Quincy Adams agrees to assist in the defense of the Africans. The Supreme Court rules in their favor, 8-1.

A popular movie such as "Amistad" is not held out as a documentary but is instead a mix of entertainment and history. With the basic background knowledge I brought to the film, I thought it generally succeeded as both, particularly as entertainment. The movie runs over 2.5 hours and held my attention throughout even though much of it is set in courtrooms. The movie includes some excellent special effects in scenery, including the initial rebellion on board the "Amistad", the scenes of cruelty and suffering on board an earlier slaver the "Tecora" which had abducted the prisoners from Africa, and the destruction of the Sierra Leone "slave fortress" by a British schooner at the end of the film. The acting is well done throughout with Anthony Hopkins capturing the character of the aged John Quincy Adams. Dijimon Honsou portrays Cinque, the leader of the captured Africans. Matthew McConaugey is effective as the young, tough minded attorney Baldwin while Peter Posthalwaite portrays the United States attorney, Holabird. Morgan Freeman plays an escaped slave, Theodore Joadson, who works with an abolitionist group in the defense of the case. The then former Supreme Court Justice, Harry Blackmun has a brief role portraying Justice Joseph Story, who delivered the opinion in the "Amistad" case.

On a historical level, Hopkins' crusty, curmudgeonly John Quincy Adams did a good job capturing both what I understand of his character and his basic role in the "Amistad" proceedings. For the rest, the movie should be taken as accurate only in its broadest sense as involving the fate of the captured Africans, the legal proceedings, and the background in slavery. The character of Joadson, for example, is fictitious, and the threat in the film of Senator John Calhoun that the South would secede in the event of a court ruling in favor of the Africans is drawn from air. The proceeding was more about the outlawed international slave trade than about domestic slavery in the United States. The Court that ruled in favor of freedom for the Africans consisted largely of Southerners. Although a great oversimplification, the film properly emphasized the role the case ultimately assumed in the conflict over slavery, the importance of the case in the protection of separation of powers, and John Quincy Adams' role in the defense. Adams' appearance and presentation before the Court were courageous and invaluable. The legal arguments on which the Africans secured their freedom were developed and presented by Baldwin, in both the lower courts and the Supreme Court, as the film properly shows. With its inaccuracies, "Amistad" offers a valuable popular approach to this historical incident for the overwhelming number of people who otherwise would have little or no knowledge. Perhaps the film serves as encouragement to some to pursue a historical interest further through reading.

I learned a great deal from reading the varied Amazon reviews of "Amistad". Many reviewers thoroughly liked the film. Other reviewers were critical of various aspects of the entertainment or aesthetic value of the movie while still others were critical of its presentation of history. I liked the movie and think it valuable for entertainment and basic history. With guidance and discussion, the film could serve as a simple effective teaching tool for secondary school students.

Robin Friedman
26 people found this helpful
Peter R. TalbotReviewed in the United States on September 30, 2020
5.0 out of 5 stars
Under-rated Historical film of the Amistad Insurrection
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Reviewers were not prepared to deal with this film on its merits, nor were social activitists on its release. They criticized it for being too much a "white man's burden" and too kind to slavers while too patronizing to slaves. In fact, Spielberg went out of his way to limit this impression.

The acting in the film was brilliant. Hopkins, McConnaughey, Freeman and Hounsou are wonderful, but just as wonderful is the supporting cast: Stellan Skarsgard, Pete Postlethwaite are brilliant, as is the cameo of Associate Chief Justice Harry Blackmun as Chief Justice Joseph Storey.

While not precise about details, the film is remarkably faithful in its representations and I would recommend it as mandatory viewing and classroom discussion for all teenagers in the USA in describing ante-bellum slavery.

Recommend highly.
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