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(15) 152 mins int}

After last summer’s routine sequel to Jurassic Park, Steven Spielberg returns to worthier fare with a historical epic that seeks to do for slavery what Schindler’s List did for the Holocaust.

The film opens on a stormy summer night on board a Spanish slave ship off the coast of Cuba in 1839. Cinque (Djimon Hounsou), one of 53 Africans held captive on the ship La Amistad, prises a nail from the deck and uses it to break free of his chains. Slaughtering all but two of the crew, the slaves seize control of the vessel and attempt to sail it back to Africa. But they are captured by an American naval cutter and put on trial in the US for piracy and murder.

Defending the Africans, real estate attorney Roger Baldwin (Matthew McConaughey) seeks to prove they were not slaves but had been kidnapped and illegally held on board the Amistad. He wins, but President Martin Van Buren (Nigel Hawthorne), anxious to appease both the slave-owning South and the infant Queen Isabella of Spain, who is petulantly demanding the return of 'Spanish property', manoeuvres behind the scenes to have the verdict overturned. Two years and three trials later, former president John Quincy Adams (Anthony Hopkins) comes out of retirement to fight the Africans' cause before the US Supreme Court.

The 'Amistad lncident‘ is a fascinating tale, but Spielberg has botched it. Not because of historical inaccuracy (though the film has been much criticised on this score) but through narrative incompetence. Spielberg has restrained his usual kinetic camera style, choosing instead to frame the action in a series of tableaux-like scenes and let the story speak for itself. But this is disingenuous, since the way the film directs

Cry freedom: the slaves are held back in Amistad

the audience’s emotional responses is every bit as manipulative as Spielberg's other works.

Not that everything in Amistad fails. The bloody revolt is stirring stuff, while the scenes depicting the Middle Passage (the slaves’ harrowing journey across the Atlantic) remain unnerving despite Spielberg's compulsive need to give an aesthetic gloss to every shot.

Where the film falls apart is in the courtroom. The cut and thrust of the debate and the attitudes the characters strike are so modem that the scenes come across as LA Law done in period costume. For all its boasted authenticity, Amistad still insists on seeing the past through the prism of the present. (Jason Best)

' General release from Fri 27 Feb.

Car trouble: LT. Walsh, Kurt Russell and Kathleen Quinlan in Breakdown


offered by a passing truck driver (Walsh), who offers to drop one of them at the nearest diner. Unfortunately once Russell gets the car going again and drives to the diner there is no sign that his Wife and the kindly trucker had ever been there. And so the plot cranks up a gear and really gets going.

if you can bear the familiarity of the journey, then you should sit back and enjoy the ride. This film seems to know it's trading in the worst urban myths and most hackneyed movre conventions as it echoes everything from Duel to Deliverance Not that the cast don't play it all with a straight face. Russell is intriguingly chosen to be the hapless victim here, a white-

(15) 93 mins at ‘k at

lust the kind of film to watch With few expectations and little advance knowledge, Breakdown is stuck firmly within its particular corner of the suspense genre and rs on first name terms with every cliche in the immediate vicinity. But that's part of the charm“for an audience second- guessing not what will happen, but how and when certain things will

occur. And for some particularly enthusiastic admirers of this kind of film, the presence of J.T. Walsh in the cast could even elevate it to classic status.

A routine cross-country drive for East Coast vuppies Kurt Russell and Kathleen Quinlan, relocating to a new life in California, quickly turns into a nightmare after their spiffy 4x4 breaks down. Stuck on a vast, remote desert highway they are grateful for the help

collar type easily intimidated by people and situations in this threatening wilderness.

Hardly a boost to tourism in the American Southwest this solid, silly, amiably suspenseful romp offers the

kind of high-grade, low-brow entertainment that audiences used to find in superior B-movies: not

sophisticated, not flashy, but you'll know you’ve seen a film. (Anwar Brett) I General release from Fri 27 Feb.

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ALSO OPENING The Postman (15) 177 mins

Kevrn Costner’s latest screen role casts him as a loner in the Wilderness, a similar figure to some he’s played before, The Postman marks his directorial follow—up to the Oscar- sweeping Dances With Wolves, but it has quickly assumed the financral and critical mantle of Waterworld. When your vrsronary eoir costs $80 million, it’s not good enough to make only Sl7 A million by the end of its first month en release

The Postman takes place fifteen years hence, ‘i‘ a pc-‘t-ua.’ apocalyptic future

where technology has been erased and

the population split into disparate townships unable to communicate with each other. A drifter (Costner) carrying mail from town to town offers hope, but a band of brutal warriors led by General Bethlehem (Will Patton) threatens to disrupt any chance of a new beginning

Without being able to review the film no UK press shows in time to meet deadlines « it certainly sounds like an overblown morality play that might suffer on this side of the Atlantic due to excessive flag-wavrng.

Costner defends it thus: 'I am in love with the idea of America and, at the same time, I despair at us as a country and a culture. I think people standing up for their rights, the right not to be Oppressed, is a very international idea'

Revrews by American critics have been predominantly negative. Box Office Magazine said, ’What should have been a rousing ode to the human spirit is instead a clumsy, poorly acted fumble.’ Others, like USA Today, find a silver lining, calling it ’too much of an oddball to out and out dislrke‘.

And The List’s view? Waterwor/d entertained, no matter what the Cynics said. This one, however, might be just too sentrrnental at heart to carry it off. (Alan Morrison)

I General release from Fri 20.

Mail of the species: Kevin Costner in The Postman

STAR RATINGS it it as air * Unmissable i 4: it * Very good i: it at Wort a shot it it Below average * You’ve been warned

20 Feb—S Mar 1998 THE UST 27