Just as Steven Spielberg followed Jurassic Park (very soon) with Schindler's List, he follows the Jurassic Park sequel (equally soon) with something to do with the African slave trade: these would be the Good Works that counterbalance the Money Lust. The true case of rebellious, slaughterous blacks on a Spanish slave ship, brought to trial in America circa 1840, turns out to be a simple one -- if the blacks were not born in Cuba, but were abducted from Africa, they are not a rightful Spanish possession -- and the only thing that complicates it is the congenital duplicity of politicians (even back then), most particularly the desire of President Martin Van Buren not to ruffle Southern feathers in the midst of his re-election campaign. This gives rise to three distinct trials where one should have sufficed, so that we get a whole Herculean series of triumphs and inspirational moments, not just the climactic Super Bowl in front of the nine gray men (seven of them Southern slave owners) of the Supreme Court, but also a sort of Wild Card game and Conference Championship game beforehand. It's a win-win-win situation. The courtroom arena dictates that the Big Issues will be hashed out, the Big Points spelled out, in talk, talk, talk. And for doubters, or unimaginative dolts, who require more tangible evidence of the unpleasantness of slavery, there will be a fifteen-minute flashback, over an hour into the movie, that takes us through beatings, shootings, lashings, etc., and soon arrives at overkill. In short, the Schindler's List approach: pound, pound, pound. With Matthew McConaughey, Djimon Hounsou, Anthony Hopkins, Morgan Freeman, Nigel Hawthorne, Pete Postlethwaite. 1997.

Duncan Shepherd

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