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Noblesse Oblige
By Sister Rose Pacatte, F.S.P.




AMAZING GRACE (A-2, PG) is the moving account of William Wilberforce’s 20-year campaign to achieve the abolition of slavery. As a young boy, Wilberforce met the Rev. John Newton (Albert Finney), a former slave-ship captain who had a spiritual conversion: He quit slaving and became a clergyman. Newton wrote “Amazing Grace,” one of the most beloved Christian hymns.

Wilberforce (Ioan Gruffudd, Fantastic Four) is a carefree student at Cambridge, but he shows social awareness. In his 20s, he is elected to British Parliament.

In 1807, after Parliament votes to abolish the slave trade in the British Empire, Lord Tarleton (Ciarán Hinds, The Nativity Story) proffers the words noblesse oblige (a person of prestige has social responsibility to those less fortunate) to Wilberforce, who becomes convinced that slavery is evil.

The Slave Abolition Act was passed in August 1833, a month after Wilberforce’s death. It decreed that slaves in the Empire would go free in four years and the Crown would reimburse owners for their “property.”

Amazing Grace was produced by Bristol Bay, owned by Christian businessman Phillip Anschutz. (Bristol Bay also made the award-winning film Ray.) Producers include a team of committed believers with impressive résumés: Ken Wales (Christy), Terrence Malick (The New World), Patricia Heaton (Everybody Loves Raymond) and her husband, David Hunt. Michael Apted (Nell) directed. The performances are solid, the cinematography is beautiful and David Arnold’s score is moving and memorable.

Viewers might want to follow this film by reading Amazing Grace: William Wilberforce and the Heroic Campaign to End Slavery, a new book by Eric Metaxas.

This year is the 200th anniversary of the British vote to abolish slavery, yet human trafficking (the transportation of persons using violence, deception or coercion for sex or economic profit) continues today on a global scale. Every time we hear or sing “Amazing Grace,” we need to be reminded of our human and Christian response and noblesse oblige. This great historical drama will be relevant as long as any person is held in bondage.



VOLVER (L, R): In a coastal village of Spain, Raimunda (Penélope Cruz, Sahara) and her sister, Sole (Lola Dueñas), clean around the headstone of their mother, Irene (Carmen Maura), with help from Raimunda’s daughter, Paula (Yohana Cobo). Then the three of them visit their nearly blind Aunt Paula (Chus Lampreave), who insists she can care for herself.

Thus starts off Spanish director/writer Pedro Almodóvar’s (All About My Mother) latest hit film about deeply felt life. The spirit world meets the real world in ways that are as imaginative and humorous as they are tragic, as disruptive as they are cathartic and healing.

Oscar-nominated for her role in this film, Penélope Cruz is completely at home as the edgy and good young mother whose creepy husband, Paco (Antonio de la Torre), sets in motion the central act of the movie when he threatens Paula.

Volver will appeal to women viewers who enjoy murder mysteries and soap operas. The film is knit together by the love between mothers and daughters who, despite great failings, stay alive to even out the scales of justice. Shows us that in the face of the inevitability of death it is never too late to say you are sorry, grow and change.

BREACH (A-3, PG-13) is inspired by the true story of F.B.I. agent Robert Hanssen (Chris Cooper). In 2001, he was apprehended by the F.B.I. while making a drop for the Russians. He was charged with espionage in what is the most notorious and treacherous security breach in U.S. history.

A few months previously, a young F.B.I. agent, Eric O’Neill (Ryan Phillippe, Flags of Our Fathers), is tapped by his supervisor, Kate Burroughs (Laura Linney), to work with Hanssen and try to catch him using the Internet for pornography. O’Neill comes to like and admire Hanssen, a Catholic who seems committed to his job and family. Eventually, Burroughs tells O’Neill the truth: The F.B.I. knows that Hanssen has been a spy since 1985 but they need to catch him in the act.

Breach is one of the finest spy-thrillers of late. My esteem for Ryan Phillippe as an actor increased by watching his impeccable performance. I hope he and Chris Cooper will be remembered when it’s time for awards.

There is no doubt that Hanssen is a tragic figure caught in a psychological and spiritual conflict. The case for his uncompromising Catholicism is clearly made in the film, as is his love for his family. At no point did I feel the film was about the Catholic Church: The fact that Hanssen was a member of Opus Dei is alluded to only once.

But his betrayal to his wife by filming their lovemaking and sending the tapes to a friend in Germany indicates that Hanssen must have suffered some kind of moral breakdown or else he was brilliantly mad from the beginning.

We never discover why Hanssen betrayed his country. As intelligent as he was, he had to have known the consequences.

Expertly directed by Billy Ray (Shattered Glass), Breach will be seen as a sad, cautionary tale. It’s a lesson for the need to internalize our values and integrate what we believe with how we live. A finely crafted thriller that works on many levels; some crude language.

THE LAST SIN EATER (A-2, PG-13): Although I didn’t care for the way director Michael Landon, Jr., equates being a faithful Christian with being a good American, this is a fairly interesting tale, based on a novel by Francine Rivers.

The story is centered on a Celtic pre-Christian practice blended with evangelical Christianity that was brought to Appalachia in the 19th century. When a person died, a meal would be set out on the body. Someone from the village would be chosen to eat the food as a symbol of eating the sins of the deceased. From that time on, the “sin eater” would be ostracized by the community.

For many centuries, the Catholic Church has condemned this practice, now almost unknown, because it ignored the sacramental action of Jesus’ death and resurrection for our sins. Violence, murder and domestic violence, but a good watch from the perspective of religious history.

SAINTS: GOSPEL ARTISTS was produced by Toronto’s Salt and Light Television and made possible by the Knights of Columbus. This 28-minute film follows 100 Canadian young adults after World Youth Day in 2005 when they visit cities in Italy and Germany associated with saints.

Included are Sts. Peter, Francis, Clare of Assisi, Teresa Benedicta of the Cross (Edith Stein), Gianna Beretta Molla and Blesseds Rupert Mayer, Pier Giorgio Frassati and John XXIII.

Besides brief accounts of the lives of the saints, the young adults add their enthusiastic reflections on spirituality. (Salt and Light Television, 114 Richmond Street East, Toronto, ON MSC 1P1,

CRIMINAL MINDS (CBS, Wednesdays): It was disappointing when Broadway and film actor Mandy Patinkin (The Princess Bride) left Chicago Hope, in which he won an Emmy. But it’s good to have him back as the world-weary head profiler Jason Gideon of the F.B.I.’s Behavioral Analysis Unit. Thomas Gibson, another Chicago Hope alum, leads the ensemble cast as Special Agent Hotchner. The team travels around the country to aid local law enforcement in their efforts to catch criminals.

The shows are compelling and the moving series goes from ordinary to thoughtful. One episode focused on a former soldier suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder. When he hears construction noise, he thinks he is in battle and begins shooting people. Hotchner and Gideon reflect that the first recorded war was in 2700 B.C.: “Five thousand years of killing each other,” says Hotchner.

“One thing human beings have been consistently good at,” adds Gideon.

I like a show that offers insight into the human condition and challenges the status quo.


PRIDE (not yet rated, PG) is inspired by true events about Jim Ellis (Terrence Howard), a struggling coach and former swimmer in Philadelphia who starts a swim team for troubled teens. Moving and inspiring; some problem language and physical violence.

INTO GREAT SILENCE (A-1, not rated): Sixteen years in the making, this movie by German filmmaker Philip Gröning is a deeply contemplative experience of life in the Grande Chartreuse, a Carthusian monastery deep in the French Alps. Without a musical score and at over 130 minutes, it touches the soul willing to dwell in the experience. (The few captions are in German and English.) An excellent film for retreats.

VENUS (O, R): Peter O’Toole was nominated for an Oscar for his portrayal of an aging actor and a dirty old man with unrequited lust for the great-niece of a friend. Uneven and sometimes disgusting tale with moments of brilliance; crude, problem sexuality and language.

A-1 General patronage
A-2 Adults and adolescents
A-3 Adults
L Limited adult audience
O Morally offensive

USCCB Movie Review Line: 1-800-311-4222,

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