Steven Spielberg replays the bloody 1839 revolt aboard the Spanish slave ship La Amistad and its legal aftermath, but his approach is almost bizarrely academic. Spielberg seems all but uninterested in the psychological experience of slavery or, indeed, in the personalities of his slave protagonists. Amistad‘s investment is in the abstract issue of slavery, one that Spielberg uses to craft a courtroom drama of dull, soapbox ponderousness. As Cinque, who leads the revolt, Djimon Hounsou has a fine, incendiary presence, but the role, as written, allows him precious few dimensions. Amistad is two and a half hours of black men sitting around in chains waiting to be given their freedom. As John Quincy Adams, who argues the slaves’ case before the Supreme Court, Anthony Hopkins grins and shambles as if he were the Wizard of Oz handing out prizes. C

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