Monday, March 12, 2007

Movie Review: Amazing Grace

Rednecks to the left of me, slack-jawed teens to the right and they were all there to see 300. Or at least Zodiac, but few of them if any, who still had their own prostates and were able to make estrogen were there to see Amazing Grace. It's a shame really because this film is what makes movies so worth it. I like to be entertained as much as the next guy, and I will see 300 at some point, but what will drive me to it is a different ethos then other people. While most want to see it solely because they liked Sin City, or comic books in general, I am into the idea of a graphic depiction of a famous event from history.

History. That's what it's all about for me these days. Much like other men I have known, I seam to have only become more voracious in my appetite for knowledge of our past. I look for it in all forms, be it book, TV or movie which is why I was excited to hear about this film. The first thing that jumped out at me about it is the lead actor: Ioan Gruffudd.

Gruffudd stared as Horatio Hornblower in the much ballyhooed series of TV movies about the fictional English Sea Captain. You youngsters may know him better as Reed Richards from the Fantastic 4 Movies. He is the perfect guy to portray a turn of the 18th Century gentleman. In Amazing Grace he stars as William Wilberforce, who was an Abolitionist Member of Parliament. He is portrait in the beginning of the movies as an older beaten down man who has fought the long fight against his nation's support of the slave trade. Through flashbacks and story telling we also see him as the younger MP who first sets out to change the world with his friend the twenty something Prime Minister William Pitt played by Benedict Cumberbatch.

The story jumps around clueing us in on the events that transpired to make William Wilberforce so adamant that Britain get out of the slave trade. We learn that his pastor, John Newton, was so haunted by what he saw as a Captain of a slave ship that he was driven on shore into service to the Lord, and also to pen the song from which the movie takes it's name. Newton is played by Albert Finney who is one of the best parts of the film. Finney is always good, but as the tortured Newton he jumps right off the screen.

Every movie needs a bad guy, and when the subject matter is so heavy as it is in Amazing Grace, that's a lot to ask of an actor. Enter Lord Tarleton, deftly portrayed by Ciaran Hinds. Hinds has most recently been seen as Julius Caesar in HBO and BBC depiction of Rome, and I didn't think he could get much better then he was in that role. In Amazing Grace, his presence is limited almost entirely to his seat in Parliament, and his opposition to Wilberforce and Abolition is rooted in his desire to do what he sees as best for Portsmouth and it's shipping industry. Maybe it's through is somewhat evil visage, but some how he takes these challenges and forms the perfect embodiment of misguided politician.

Amazing Grace is a fantastic movie, that is easily watchable even though it is about a historical figure and event that most will not be familiar with. It is also amazing how the events of the early 1800's seem to mirror some of our challenges of today so well. Wilberforce is called out as a seditionist and seen as anti-English when he brings his reforms to the Parliament during a time of war. Much of what we can commonly acknowledge as important looking back is seen as trivial in the light of an all encompassing war. Sounds familiar huh.?

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1 comment:

interdudez said...

Nice review, just remember that most historical biopics contain a considerable amount of "artistic license" and this film is no exception. John Newton, the author of the song "Amazing Grace" himself knew and understood the concept well and lived it. He was never haunted by thousands of ghosts and was not burdened by guilt. He was moved by compassion and a heart of love to see the slave trade come to an end. He was no torturer of slaves as depicted in the film nor did he finally "confess" his atrocities as depicted in the film. You can read his story in his own words in the book "Out of the Depths" without the colored glasses. The script writer did the best he could not knowing much of anything about Newton and probably not having time to find out, so he basically just made up what seemed to make sense to him. Wilberforce most likely never heard the song "Amazing Grace" and certainly never heard the modern melody. Still, there's much to like in the film - commitment to a cause motivated by a love for God and man and a relentless pursuit of the goal to its completion. Wilberforce persevered in a way we can all learn from.