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Amazing Grace (2006)
Falling out of "Grace"
"Amazing Grace" is a film about the abolitionist movement in England during the 18th century. Thematically, it's about change, the plowing down of conventions, and an end to traditional thinking.
It is ironic, then, that this film takes advantage of so many clichés of the heart-warming genre: the hero with a troubled past (which in the film manifests itself as a sickness), the "witty" banter style of dialog; Michael Gambon himself is a cliché, playing an old, bitter parliament member who decides to change sides to Ioan Gruffudd's ragtag team of politicians, speakers, and a freed slave. Of course, as viewers, we've heard all of these devices before, just like the song that gives the film its title.
However, there is a new, interesting story afoot: Gruffudd plays William Wilberforce, an up-and-coming ambitious abolitionist who wages war against parliament for the end of the slave trade over a period of fifteen years, each time coming closer and closer to abolishing the evil business. In this time period, politics is just that: a fight, one that is waged amongst chaos and insult, clever cheating and underhanded tactics. You have to give this to the film; it does a spectacular job of showing the political system, and I left the theater asking my friend if that was really how Britain was in that time. He said yes, and then the questioning stopped. This is the true folly of the film; it has an original story, yet the writer, one Steven Knight, can only produce "witty" dialog, which, during a clever action movie, one can't help but smile at, but for the entire course of the film, merely produces a dull, constant dislike for the characters and the words that come out of their mouths. The film is smart at times, with an instance of clever symbolism (keep an eye on the color of the horses), but it's hardly smart enough to be engaging and it's not engaging enough to make you want to think more about its content.
Also ironically, there is one black character in the movie: Olaudah Equiano, who is in only a few speaking scenes, among which are the most powerful in the movie (the other scene stealer- John Newton, who plays the author of the song). The intention is, of course, to portray the realism of the British Empire, that is, that black people had absolutely no control. But, of course, they did. The movie states itself that the British Empire was built on the backs of slaves, and the slave trade influenced all the politics of the day. The fact that Equiano gives us a firsthand, not a secondhand, look at the slave trade and yet is rarely featured is almost preposterous; it forced me to ask, where are all the slaves? Where are all the people who experienced the real horrors of the slave trade? They're not here, and when they are, they play a brief role. This other flaw, a permanent sense of removal from the issue, only brushing with it in a few scenes, makes the movie that much less powerful.