Amazing grace

The lovely and gracious Jia Lin (dead blog?) took my wife and I out to dinner last week. She asked whether I have seen any movies lately, since I hadn’t been reviewing them here on the blog. The truth is that I consciously decided to stop. A review that says that MI3 is redundant and uninspired would be, well… redundant and uninspired. Besides, there are people more knowledgable and interesting to read on film.

I make an exception here only because it seems I was among the earliest of focus groups for Amazing Grace, a new film about William Wilberforce’s efforts to abolish the UK slave trade, directed by Michael Apted. The title refers to to the familiar hymn, written by John Newton, who converted to Christianity after working on a slave ship, and serves as a driving force for Wilberforce in the film.

Many of you are already saying “no, thanks.” No historically accurate English period pieces for me–especially if it deals with slavery. But what makes this film is the political intrigue, and some really good acting. It is one of the best films I’ve seen in the last year or so, and some of the performances are really outstanding. It’s a smart movie, with smart dialog, and relationships that are at the same time extreme and ring true. Perhaps what is most striking is that it is a film that makes you feel good about the potential for political action. Syriana, Good Night and Good Luck, even something like Schindler’s List makes you think about injustice and its human cost, and the impossibility of real change within the system. You leave the theater inspired, but without much hope. Those that do provide a source of hope are often saccharine and artificial. This film feels both genuine and hopeful–something that happens more often in sports movies than in political movies.

It also treats evangelical Christianity in a way that is very refreshing–especially for someone who has become extremely wary of the intersection of politics and religion. Wilberforce wore his religion on his sleeve, and while the film focuses on his work toward the abolition of the slave trade (and touches on his efforts against animal cruelty), it takes a light hand in some of his other work, toward the general improvement of the life of the working class. Inevitably, when religion plays an important part in a movie, there is a question of whether it is a “red state” movie, as in the case of another Walden release, the Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe. This movie has a clear evangelical message, and the passion for social justice really struck me and those I watched with. On the other hand, I suspect that the message is too anti-authoritarian for many of the current conservative Christians in the US. I will be very interested to see how it plays to a variety of audiences.

It is not due out for another year, with the release timed to coincide with the 200th anniversary of the abolition of the slave trade in the UK. It’s not a perfect film. I saw a very finished version, but I deeply hope they do a bit more editing–particularly at the beginning and the end. There was some indication that this was a possibility, and I think it would make it an even stronger film. Even if released as it stands, though, this is a film you should watch for and go and see.

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One Comment

  1. Posted 5/12/2006 at 2:22 pm | Permalink

    Hey, this film sounds really interesting. I’m glad you called my attention to it, especially given my own interests in evangelical Christianity and politics. Evangelicals are certainly trending conservative, which ultimately alienated me completely from the evangelical movement, but that doesn’t have to be the case, so hoping now to get a chance to see this film.

One Trackback

  1. By the chutry experiment on 5/12/2006 at 3:58 pm

    Dodging DaVinci…

    I’m intrigued by the debates among religious leaders (article via Green Cine) about how to respond to the upcoming release of Ron Howard’s film version of The DaVinci Code. As Laurie Goodstein points out, both evangelicals and Catholics are divided…..

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