GIFF 2019 – Review: AMAZING GRACE Offers A Great Concert But Little Else

FIRST IMPRESSION

Aretha Franklin's performance in Amazing Grace is extraordinary, but it doesn't match seeing her in person, and the film isn't really that well-made.

REVIEW OVERVIEW

Directing
Entertainment Value
Technical Merit

Amazing Grace is a new concert film directed by Alan Elliot and Sydney Pollack. The film uses lost footage shot by Pollack of Aretha Franklin performing the eponymous famous live album in Los Angeles in 1972. It played at festivals including the 2018 AFI Fest, the 2019 SXSW Film Festival, and the 2019 Gasparilla International Film Festival.

The main reason why this film is getting so much praise is because Franklin’s performance is absolutely phenomenal. Her voice is undeniably amazing, and her renditions of these well-known hymns are quite impressive. If you are a fan of hers, you will enjoy watching her perform, and if you don’t yet love the Queen of Soul, this film will change that.

However, one of the things that drags the film down is that it lacks story. The film is just an hour and a half long recording of Franklin’s performance. If you are into that type of thing, this is made for you. That being said, the film could have benefitted from having some more substance, like interviews with modern-day people discussing the importance of the album.

As is, the film is able to keep your attention because of its rather short runtime, but it isn’t the most captivating. The first half of the film is definitely stronger than the second, as it contains the most performances that went above and beyond. Franklin’s performance of the eponymous song comes around the halfway mark, and this is where the film peaks.

amazing grace piano

Some have claimed that this film is electrifying and will give you chills. That may not be entirely true. Franklin’s performance is wonderful, but watching a film recording of it isn’t the same as it would be to see her perform in person. Other members of the audience were reacting more actively, but it won’t resonate for everyone.

Another big issue with the film is that it isn’t particularly well-made. The footage has a ton of issues. One may wonder if this is a part of the reason why it was “lost”. Many of the shots go out of focus, and there are quite a few random zooms in the middle of a take. To an extent, this is understandable given that the film was shot live, but with a talent like Pollack at the helm, you would hope that it would be better.

Elliot didn’t fare much better in his assembly of the footage. You can tell from the finished product that Elliot isn’t an experienced filmmaker. He is accustomed to working as a composer on films. The editing is sloppy and many questionable choices were made. For example, the film inexplicably uses split screen a handful of times throughout the film in a way that isn’t necessary or effective.

Overall, Amazing Grace was a somewhat disappointing concert film. Although Franklin’s performance is worth watching, the footage is poorly-shot and assembled and there isn’t any supplemental material to do her phenomenal voice justice.

Amazing Grace played at the 2019 Gasparilla International Film Festival. It opens in theaters on April 5.

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Sean Boelman
Sean is a film student, aspiring filmmaker, and life-long cinephile. For as long as he can remember, he has always loved film, but he credits the film Pan's Labyrinth as having started his love of film as art. Sean enjoys watching many types of films, although some personal favorite genres include dramatic comedies, romantic comedies, heist films, and art horror.

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