"Mainstream" Mormon cinema has neither produced a great film since 2004's Saints and Soldiers, nor a truly engaging and thought-provoking film since 2001's Brigham City. Evangelical Christian films--or at least those films marketed toward the Evangelical Christian demographic--have not fared much better. While I found the recent Chronicles of Narnia films--particularly Prince Caspian--excellent in almost every way, I thought 2006's The Nativity Story and The End of the Spear were dull, unimaginative, and relatively unengaging. Consequently, when I recently put 2006's Amazing Grace into my DVD player, I braced myself for another bad attempt at spiritual filmmaking.
As usually happens with me and my artistic pessimism, Amazing Grace proved me wrong. Not only is this film thought-provoking and inspiring (a word I use about as often as "amazing" or "breathtaking"), but it is quite entertaining. I highly recommend it. Unlike so many "spiritual" or "religious" films, it never slips into a maudlin piety or become overly hagiographic. In many ways, in fact, the films depiction of William Wilberforce's long struggle to abolish the British slave trade reminds of the David and Goliath-like storylines of Frank Capra's great Mr. Smith Goes to Washington and Mr. Deeds Goes to Town.
Amazing Grace, of course, is not without its problems. For example, some critics have suggested that the film could have given the efforts of blacks in the British abolition movement a more prominent place. While I am sympathetic to such criticism, I am reluctant to wholeheartedly accept it. The film, after all, is a biopic about Wilberforce, and not the whole of the British abolition movement. What is more, it does attempt to show the efforts of some blacks in the movement, specifically Olaudah Equiano. One of the most powerful moments in the film, in fact, occurs when Equiano, a former slave, takes Wilberforce on a tour of a slaveship.
Despite its problems, though, Amazing Grace is well worth the 118 minutes it takes to watch it. Give it a try.