After the last magnificent scene just before the credits started rolling, I started to consider how well made this film was. It had everything: a moving soundtrack, powerful performances by renowned actors, gripping courtroom drama and to top it off, enough graphic violence and imagery to make your stomach churn. The movie starts onboard the “La Amistad,” a Spanish slave ship, where our main character Cinque desperately tries to obtain a nail to free himself and his comrades. He eventually succeeds and with his fellow would be slaves he starts a rebellion aboard the ship. This was one of the more graphic scenes where we witness angry slaves trying to take command of the ship by brute force. One scene especially remains in my mind where Cinque impales a Spanish sailor with a saber, and you can hear the sword twisting the insides of this man while he chokes on his own blood. Shortly, after the Africans gain control of the ship, a poignant soundtrack begins to play. I liked the fact that most of the soundtrack was composed of traditional African music, whilst still retaining a “Western” feel; as classical music sets in to accompany the African chanting, it really is able to convey the epic of the voyage and struggle the slaves had to endure. La Amistad is soon captured offshore, and our hero Cinque is once again enslaved. The language used up to this point in the film was Spanish and Mende, which also made me as a viewer pay more attention to the body language of the slaves. I took note of Cinque’s powerful verbal and physical dominance, as it impressed in nearly every scene he was in. I could almost feel the pain and injustice that was put upon him merely by his outrages. Afterwards the movie sets itself up as a courthouse drama, where we see more commendable actors. We have the abolitionists on one side, and the prosecutors on the other. The lawyer Baldwin left the greatest impression during the courtroom sittings, and abolitionist Joadson had several moving scenes with regard to his origins. During the evidence gathering aboard the ship, there was one scene wherein Joadson is regarding the chains of the slaves, and he suddenly slips and becomes entangled in the chains himself, unable to navigate due to loss of lighting. It was an intense scene and I could really “feel” how frightened he was. When we witness the actual story of Cinque, how he was captured and what horrible things he and his countrymen had to endure; the turning point was when the slaves were deemed free. The flashback story was extremely graphic, portraying the inhumane treatment of slaves aboard the Tecora, another slave ship. It really made my stomach churn at some points. There are also other miscellaneous scenes where we get to see the President of the United States who is troubled by the case about the Amistad slaves, which could end in civil war between the north and the south. This made the movie more complex, which at first seemed to be about justice and truth; and the difference between property and humans. It showcased the unrest between the north and the south during a turbulent and changing time in American history. The film ends with one of the most unforgettable monologues by John Quincy Adams before the Supreme Court, where he denounces the unrighteousness that was put upon the unfortunate slaves. At last, they are set free legally by the court, and the slave fortress is destroyed. Cinque and his countrymen are sent home, aboard a ship once again heading for the horizon beneath a beautiful sunset. I truly enjoyed the movie, and enjoyed the wonderful performances of Cinque, John Quincy Adams and Baldwin. Its graspping soundtrack was the finishing touch. I would recommend it to viewers who are fond of courtroom dramas and historical depictions, albeit slightly altered from the truth.
Jaap van Baars Jaapvbaars@gmail.com
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