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
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
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
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
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
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
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.