For all its good intentions, Spielberg's fact-based film about African slaves fighting for their lives and freedom in 1830s America falls short of Schindler's List. Except for the overkill of the seizure of the Spanish ship (La Amistad) transporting the slaves to the New World, and a flashback of Africans being sent to a watery grave, it registers chiefly as upmarket, visually bland TV drama. As the fate of the 53 slaves charged with murder is determined in the courts, the politically and philosophically diverse factions are laboriously established: the Abolitionists (Freeman and Skarsgård); their initially dispassionate young lawyer (McConaughey); the pro-slavery attorney (Postlethwaite); President Van Buren (Hawthorne), keen to appease the South, Spain's teenage Queen Isabella, and an electorate about to vote; and former President John Quincy Adams (Hopkins), a curmudgeonly eccentric who eventually emerges from retirement to argue for brave, unbending Cinque (Hounsou) and the other defendants. In short, a wordy courtroom drama which seldom progresses beyond ciphers, stereotypes and salutary slogans.
Cast and crew