Amazing Grace
PG
Entertainment: +3
Acceptability: +3

Ioan Gruffudd, Romola Garai, Ciaran Hinds, Rufus Sewell, Youssou NDour with Micael Gambon and Albert Finney. Drama. Written by Steven Knight. Directed by Michael Apted.

FILM SYNOPSIS: Ioan Gruffudd (Black Hawk Down, Fantastic Four) plays William Wilberforce, the man who championed the abolition of slavery in the British Empire. Elected to Parliament at age 29, Wilberforce led a diverse coalition of believers in a decades-long struggle to end the lucrative but dehumanizing slave trade. Several friends, including Wilberforces minister, John Newton (Albert Finney), a reformed slave ship captain who penned the beloved hymn Amazing Grace, urge him to see the cause through.

PREVIEW REVIEW: I have to admit, I was a little disappointed. Not by whats up on the screen, but by what isnt. The picture is engrossing, with a solid (if staid) performance from the lead. Amazing Grace enlightens while never forsaking the goal of any devout filmmaker: to entertain. But I was letdown by its neglect of the man who first combined those two words Amazing Grace. Considering the title, I thought the film would focus around the author of one of the most stirring hymns ever written. Sadly, we dont learn much about John Newton.

The always engaging, if blustery, Albert Finney depicts Newton as a guilt-ridden man in a few scenes where he mops a church floor or looks off into oblivion after losing his eyesight (theres an irony that could have been developed - Once I was blind, but now I see). We dont, however, witness his conversion or come to understand what brought on that reversal, except through a discursive anecdotal monologue. By not focusing the film on Newtons transformation, the filmmakers discard one of the most affecting conversions in all of history. Oh, how I would loved to have seen this epic, yet personal subject matter, in the hands of writer Robert Bolt (A Man for All Seasons, Dr. Zhivago) and director David Lean (Great Expectations, Lawrence of Arabia).

Once again, well-meaning Christian producers (there are several of them attached to this production) have dropped the ball. We never see the mistreatment of the black man. Its just talked about. Youd think such gifted filmmakers as Apted and Knight would be well aware that in movies a picture is worth a thousand words. In this film, we always get the thousand words, while the most powerful imagery is neglected. Because of this neglect, theres no visceral punch to the production. For instance, we hear a man discuss the villainy of chains and shackles, he even puts one around his neck, but we never see men held captive by such devices. A brief flashback could have pictured the life-changing horror undergone by Africans stolen from their homeland. Thats the astonishing aspect of movies, they picture what words fail to reveal. We are therefore left with a production that is more TV Masterpiece Theater than majestic theatrical drama. Misters Apted and Knight have made a good movie, just not an amazing one.

That said, director Michael Apted (Nell, 42 Up, The Long Way Home) and Steven Knight (Dirty Pretty Things, Eastern Promises) do combine their efforts in order to relate a bit of history how the slave trade was brought to the attention of the world. Though its not the moving film I expected, Amazing Grace is an important film because it reminds us of the horrors mankind is capable of inflicting. It should also remind us that we need to be vigilant of the insidious nature of evil. Malevolence sprouts up when and wherever possible, and is designed to destroy the soul of mankind.

Whats interesting, scary, actually, is that despite the efforts of godly men such as Wilberforce, Abraham Lincoln and all those who argued and fought to end slavery, such activity still exists. Its now called human trafficking, and it is a multi-million-dollar, worldwide industry. Children and adults are sold for hard labor and for sexual gratification. And there are soulless people who benefit from this trade not just for financial gain, but because they enjoy harming others.

Along with this film, allow me to suggest the viewing of The Civil War. Ken Burns eloquent look at the struggle between the North and the South should be required viewing, especially for teens. The 1989 quintessential documentary series on the War Between the States will take several nights to view, but worth the time. It is a stirring learning experience about the foibles and nobility of the human spirit.

(Allow me a final note about the Christian producers of Amazing Grace, two of whom are Patricia Heaton (Everybody Loves Raymond, Thou Shalt Laugh) and Ken Wales (who often worked with the brilliant Blake Edwards). I dont mean my disenchantment with the production to come across as denigrating their work. These are people I have a great deal of respect for and could never come close to the entertainment mountains theyve topped. Indeed, I dont want my efforts to ever be perceived as hostile toward any artist. With every new production, the movie maker puts his everything on the line. And his goal is always to make a good product. His efforts deserve respect. This is why I seldom make a joke at a filmmakers expense. I have merely given an impression, a point of view, one I hope will serve those who cherish the promise of movies.)

Preview Reviewer: Phil Boatwright
Distributor: Fox Faith

Summary
Crude Language: None
Obscene Language: A bigoted man refers to blacks with the n-word. There are a couple of minor expletives (damns).
Profanity: While there are no scenes of the horrific practice of slavery, there are discussions that reveal its cruelty.
Violence: None.
Sexual Intercourse: None.
Nudity: None.
Homosexual Conduct: None.
Sexually Suggestive Action/Dialog: None.
Drug Abuse: Occasional social drinking.
Other: None
Running Time: Unknown
Intended Audience: Teens and Adults

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