NEW FILMS

AMISTAD

(15) H

Director: Steven Spielberg

Starring: Anthony Hopkins, Morgan Freeman, Djimon Hounsou, Matthew McConaughey

Amistad is a pertinent example of the good Spielberg/bad Spielberg complex which

has been with us ever since the director made his self-consciously adult film The Color Purple in 1986. He had been out of control before, on the comedy 1941, but with

The Color Purple he invested so much effort into challenging the world's notion of him as a purveyor of disposable entertainment that he appeared more shallow and self-absorbed than he had ever done before, and ended up making one of his most superficial movies.

Amistad isn't quite that bad, but it is entirely without vision or purpose, unless Spielberg made it just to let us know that he thinks slavery is a jolly rotten thing.

The film opens spectacularly with the slave cargo of the ship La Amistad breaking free and slaughtering their captors in 1839. Spielberg takes their brutality out of context, depicting them as inhuman monsters, even denying them subtitles so that they remain alien to the audience. It's an interesting manipulation of perspective, but as the film progresses and we are encouraged to sympathise with the slaves, Spielberg loses his grip.

He can't find the middle ground between portraying these men as savages and eulogising them, so he gives them the same holy aura of wonderment that he applied to the aliens at the end of Close Encounters Of The Third Kind. It's inconceivable to him that these slaves were real human beings with foibles and bad habits equal to those of their white counterparts. In Spielberg's eyes, the dignity of suffering bleaches out a person's soul, so that they become unequivocally noble and pure. You may expect the main captive, Cinque (Djimon Hounsou) to heal someone's wound with a glowing forefinger like ET.

For Spielberg, the outsider is a catalyst of change, but not in the bitter, gritty sense suggested by Pasolini in Theorem, or Renoir in Boudu Saved From Drowning. In Amistad, the outsider is a saint whose primitive culture is light years ahead of western civilisation.

It's tempting to think that the film might have achieved more if it had either remained true to its original representation of Cinque as an untamed monster, or else aligned itself with him completely and adopted his perspective, subtitles and all. Now that Spielberg has his own production company, it is not so inconceivable that he should be able to show a black struggle from a black point of view, rather than filtering it through the experiences of the white men who defend the slaves.

DESPERATE MEASURES

(15) H

Director: Barbet Schroeder

Starring: Michael Keaton, Andy Garcia, Brian Cox

The boy who is going to die of leukaemia unless he can get a bone marrow transplant from the only match in the country - psychopath Michael Keaton - looks into the eyes of his father (Andy Garcia) and says: "Something went really wrong, didn't it dad?"

You could say that. Keaton has escaped without depositing his bone marrow, and most of the local police force are lying slain in hospital corridors. It isn't long into this absurd B-movie-style thriller that you start to sympathise with the grizzled cop, played by Brian Cox, who asks Garcia, "How many people have to die tonight so the kid of yours can live?"

Desperate Measures has none of the gleefully camp sparkle that you might expect from the director, Barbet Schroeder, though Michael Keaton gives good value for money as the lunatic who is so terrifying that even police dogs are scared of him.

THE EDGE

(15) HH

Director: Lee Tamahori

Starring: Alec Baldwin, Anthony Hopkins, Elle MacPherson, Harold Perrineau

David Mamet's screenplay for this intermittently thrilling tale of male rivalry feels about five years too late, peddling as it does a back-to-the-wilderness ethic that makes the film seem like an Iron John workshop. Anthony Hopkins is the billionaire who is stranded in the Alaskan wilds with fashion photographer Alec Baldwin, the man whom he suspects of coveting his young wife. They have to combine Hopkins' intellectual prowess with Baldwin's rugged masculinity in order to survive, but even once they have negotiated obstacles such as hunting for food and eluding a hungry bear, they must confront each other.

Like its characters, the film is half crazy and half compelling, with some especially fine locations in Alberta, Canada, providing the backdrop for a macho battle that becomes more intriguing the sillier it gets.

LA MAMAN ET LA PUTAIN

(18) HHHH

Director: Jean Eustache

Starring: Bernadette Lafont, Jean-Pierre Leaud, Francoise Lebrun, Pierre Cottrell, Jacques Renard

Jean Eustache's exploration of the confused souls of Parisian Bohemia arrives in a new print with freshly corrected subtitles in the original full-length three-hours-and-35-minute cut that caused such controversy upon its original release in 1973. It's a gritty but engrossing study of a young man called Alexandre (the outstanding Jean-Pierre Leaud), who flits between Marie, the older woman with whom he lives, and the younger Veronika, whose casual recklessness entrances him. Slowly, the film reels you in with its unsparingly honest portrait of the conflicting ideals and emotions of a lost generation. Revelling in the pretensions of Alexandre, but innocent of pretentiousness itself, this is an unexpectedly gripping and profound work.

THE UGLY

(18) HH

Director: Scott Reynolds

Starring: Paul Rotondo

An imaginative New Zealand-made horror movie about a psychologist who attempts to unravel the mind of a psychopath. The chilling metallic design of the sets is particularly impressive, as is the stylish editing which seamlessly blends past and present, fantasy and reality. See Wide Angle, p16.

PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Life and Style
ebookNow available in paperback
ebooks
ebookPart of The Independent’s new eBook series The Great Composers
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs General

    Recruitment Genius: Account Manager

    £20000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This full service social media ...

    Recruitment Genius: Data Analyst - Online Marketing

    £24000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: We are 'Changemakers in retail'...

    Austen Lloyd: Senior Residential Conveyancer

    Very Competitive: Austen Lloyd: Senior Conveyancer - South West We are see...

    Austen Lloyd: Residential / Commercial Property Solicitor

    Excellent Salary: Austen Lloyd: DORSET MARKET TOWN - SENIOR PROPERTY SOLICITOR...

    Day In a Page

    Isis in Iraq: Yazidi girls killing themselves to escape rape and imprisonment by militants

    'Jilan killed herself in the bathroom. She cut her wrists and hanged herself'

    Yazidi girls killing themselves to escape rape and imprisonment
    Ed Balls interview: 'If I think about the deficit when I'm playing the piano, it all goes wrong'

    Ed Balls interview

    'If I think about the deficit when I'm playing the piano, it all goes wrong'
    He's behind you, dude!

    US stars in UK panto

    From David Hasselhoff to Jerry Hall
    Grace Dent's Christmas Quiz: What are you – a festive curmudgeon or top of the tree?

    Grace Dent's Christmas Quiz

    What are you – a festive curmudgeon or top of the tree?
    Nasa planning to build cloud cities in airships above Venus

    Nasa planning to build cloud cities in airships above Venus

    Planet’s surface is inhospitable to humans but 30 miles above it is almost perfect
    Surrounded by high-rise flats is a little house filled with Lebanon’s history - clocks, rifles, frogmen’s uniforms and colonial helmets

    Clocks, rifles, swords, frogmen’s uniforms

    Surrounded by high-rise flats is a little house filled with Lebanon’s history
    Return to Gaza: Four months on, the wounds left by Israel's bombardment have not yet healed

    Four months after the bombardment, Gaza’s wounds are yet to heal

    Kim Sengupta is reunited with a man whose plight mirrors the suffering of the Palestinian people
    Gastric surgery: Is it really the answer to the UK's obesity epidemic?

    Is gastric surgery really the answer to the UK's obesity epidemic?

    Critics argue that it’s crazy to operate on healthy people just to stop them eating
    Homeless Veterans appeal: Christmas charity auction Part 2 - now LIVE

    Homeless Veterans appeal: Christmas charity auction

    Bid on original art, or trips of a lifetime to Africa or the 'Corrie' set, and help Homeless Veterans
    Pantomime rings the changes to welcome autistic theatre-goers

    Autism-friendly theatre

    Pantomime leads the pack in quest to welcome all
    The week Hollywood got scared and had to grow up a bit

    The week Hollywood got scared and had to grow up a bit

    Sony suffered a chorus of disapproval after it withdrew 'The Interview', but it's not too late for it to take a stand, says Joan Smith
    From Widow Twankey to Mother Goose, how do the men who play panto dames get themselves ready for the performance of a lifetime?

    Panto dames: before and after

    From Widow Twankey to Mother Goose, how do the men who play panto dames get themselves ready for the performance of a lifetime?
    Thirties murder mystery novel is surprise runaway Christmas hit

    Thirties murder mystery novel is surprise runaway Christmas hit

    Booksellers say readers are turning away from dark modern thrillers and back to the golden age of crime writing
    Anne-Marie Huby: 'Charities deserve the best,' says founder of JustGiving

    Anne-Marie Huby: 'Charities deserve the best'

    Ten million of us have used the JustGiving website to donate to good causes. Its co-founder says that being dynamic is as important as being kind
    The botanist who hunts for giant trees at Kew Gardens

    The man who hunts giants

    A Kew Gardens botanist has found 25 new large tree species - and he's sure there are more out there