Saturday, May 26, 2007

Amazing Grace

Grace Comes From Here

Summer season means the latest blockbuster in town will take up 90% of the screens in any multiplex, leaving little room for movies other than the highlight of the week, or be scheduled for screening in a dinghy theatre with bad screens and sound systems.

Nonetheless some movies might have that one hall screening, and Michael Apted's Amazing Grace managed to squeeze past the Pirates of the Caribbean off a small hall. I was curious about the film as it offered a look behind a familiar song, which has now become a hymn naturally because of the message contained in the lyrics, written by John Newton (Albert Finney). But the movie doesn't tell you that story about the writing of the song per se, much as I thought it would, but instead told of a certain William Wilberforce (Ioan Gruffudd), who embarks on a political journey in 19th Century England to abolish the slave trade in Britain and her territories.

As such, much time is spent in Parliament, and the wheelings and shady dealings in Pirates' are familiar themes again in a similar timeline. William is an idealist, who's at the crossroads of his life contemplating whether to become a man of the church, or to dabble in politics, and it didn't take too long before good friend Pitt (Benedict Cumberbatch), who aspires to be Prime Minister, to convince him that his quick witted brain and charismatic speeches are much needed arsenal in his campaign. And to do so, he provides William a cause to fight against, and that's slavery.

For William, he's a man torn between paying lip service to God, or doing God's work to aid mankind in general. We see for the most parts in his banter with his chum Pitt, that politics and friendship do mix, on the sly of course, as they navigate through the murky waters of the House of Commons, which is somewhat an experience of sorts watching the politicians argue their points, and either supporting or bringing down bills they are opposed to. The film centers around William, his motivations, energies, illness, love life, almost the whole works, while John Newton as a character managed just a few interactive scenes.

The song does get featured a few times in the movie, but I thought the better rendition was when Gruffudd sings it solo and with great gusto (he has an amazing singing voice). You can understand it better as to how it's used in the context of slavery abolishment, and the narrative's told rather as a matter of fact. The introductory act does get a little confusing, especially with its shifting timelines which are spliced together quite haphazardly, with only Gruffudd's hairstyle as a guide when the titles disappear. Used to tell the backstory of his romance with future wife Barbara (Romola Garai), don't expect a great love story weaved into the movie, as it actually acted as a subplot instead in its vanilla plain account.

Given it's inspired by true incidents (of course with certain liberties taken), Amazing Grace does seem to indulge in itself in its last act toward the inevitable end. But as a choice of sorts to break away from too much summer blockbuster hype, this movie does provide some valuable lessons to take away, especially that of never giving up when the tough gets going. Oh, and Youssou N'Dour has a bit role here, see if you can spot him!

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