Unelucidating

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Steven Spielberg's Amistad retrieves from the dark swamp of nearly-forgotten history a fascinating moment in American history when a ship full of slaves mutinied against the men who had captured them and packaged them like cargo.The slaves, led by a man named Cinque (Djimon Hounsou), commanded the last remaining sailors to return them to Africa but were instead conveyed to New York, where they were brought to trial for murder. C., they imagined that their daggers had saved the obsolete but tenacious oligarchy known as the Republic. ''It is more important for the state than for myself that I should survive,'' he had told friends. When a crowd of Roman senators cut down the dictator Julius Caesar on the Ides of March in 44 B.The most disconcertingly drawn characters are those of Hounsou, as the ostensible hero, and Anthony Hopkins, playing former president John Quincy Adams, who speaks on behalf of Cinque's cohort before the Supreme Court.

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Amistad, however, filmed from a clumsy and rushed-seeming script by David H.The exile and disgrace of his daughter and granddaughter, both charged with gross immorality, remain mysterious.His wife, Livia, an indispensable member of the regime, was suspected of scheming -- and much worse -- on behalf of her sons by a previous marriage. A strong sense of drama also sustains Adrian Goldsworthy's ''Caesar: Life of a Colossus'' and Anthony Everitt's ''Augustus: The Life of Rome's First Emperor.'' Both are out to tell a good story. As victor in his own civil wars, Augustus maintained an ostentatious facade of Republican government, while keeping real power in his own grasp. Shakespeare, George Bernard Shaw, Robert Graves and many others have mined this era for its epic incident and human pathos.

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