This Steven Spielberg-directed exploration into a long-ago episode in African-American history recounts the trial that followed the 1839 rebellion aboard the Spanish slave ship Amistad and captures the complex political maneuverings set in motion by the event. Filmed in New England and Puerto Rico, the 152-minute drama opens with a pre-credit sequence showing Cinque (Djimon Hounsou) and the other Africans in a violent takeover of the Amistad. Captured, they are imprisoned in New England where former slave Theodore Joadson (Morgan Freeman), viewing the rebels as "freedom fighters," approaches property lawyer Baldwin (Matthew McConaughey), who attempts to prove the Africans were "stolen goods" because they were kidnapped. Running for re-election, President Martin Van Buren (Nigel Hawthorne) overturns the lower court's decision in favor of the Africans. Former President John Quincy Adams (Anthony Hopkins) is reluctant to become involved, but when the case moves on to the Supreme Court, Adams stirs emotions with a powerful defense. The storyline occasionally cuts away to Spain where the young Queen Isabella (Anna Paquin) plays with dolls; she later debated the Amistad case with seven U.S. presidents. The character portrayed by Morgan Freeman is a fictional composite of several historical figures. For authentic speech, the Africans speak the Mende language, subtitled during some scenes but not others.
by Bhob Stewart synopsis