Amistad (1997)

Genres - Drama, Historical Film  |   Sub-Genres - Message Movie, Period Film, Courtroom Drama  |   Release Date - Dec 10, 1997 (USA - Limited), Dec 25, 1997 (USA)  |   Run Time - 152 min.  |   Countries - United States   |   MPAA Rating - R
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Like Martin Scorsese, Steven Spielberg spent the 1990s alternating between highly commercial projects such as Jurassic Park and more personal ventures such as Schindler's List, both released in 1993. As List did with Park, Amistad arrived the winter following The Lost World, and used an extraordinary historical incident to address a larger topic, in this instance slavery rather than the Holocaust. Opening with a remarkable sequence portraying the slave revolt, Amistad, however, quickly devolves into a big-budget classroom instructional film, albeit a fairly gripping one. Handsomely mounted, beautifully filmed, and well-acted (particularly by Djimon Hounsou and Anthony Hopkins), Spielberg's film loses momentum each time he halts for scenes of courtroom speechifying framed against a billowing American flag in a window. Harrowing flashbacks to life aboard the Amistad and the slowly-developing respect between Hounsou and Matthew McConaughey's characters suggest the filmmaker in Spielberg chomping at the bit to do more. In its best moments, Amistad reveals Spielberg as the artist/entertainer he's striven to become since 1986's The Color Purple; in its worst moments, the film reveals a director whose earnestness outstrips his command of the material.