‘Amazing Grace’ Reviews: Aretha Franklin Doc Hits High Note With Critics

After 47 years, the long-lost Aretha Franklin documentary Amazing Grace is finally seeing the light.

Filmed in 1972, the concert movie arrived in theaters in New York and Los Angeles on Friday, April 5, and will expand to other cities each week to play nationwide by Easter Sunday.

The documentary chronicles the recording of Franklin’s best-selling gospel album, Amazing Grace. The live performances were filmed over two days at New Temple Missionary Baptist Church in the Los Angeles neighborhood of Watts as celebrities, including Mick Jagger, sat in the audience and savored the music.

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Franklin turns in soul-stirring performances of gospel standards “Amazing Grace,” “Mary Don’t You Weep,” and “Precious Memories.”

The legendary performer is directed by another gospel icon — the Rev. James Cleveland — with backing by the Southern California Community choir.

Warner Bros. Pictures and director Sydney Pollack teamed up to shoot the documentary as a companion for Franklin’s best-selling 1972 album. However, the movie remained shelved for decades because of technical and legal issues.

Producer Alan Elliott acquired the footage in 2007 and worked with a team of producers to restore the movie and bring it to audiences. Neon acquired the North American distribution rights. Now, nearly a year after Franklin passed away in August 2018, the movie has the blessing of her estate and is being released.

The documentary has a stellar 97% rating on Rotten Tomatoes, with 37 of 38 reviews ranking it Fresh, as of Friday afternoon.

Among those praising the film was Odie Henderson of RogerEbert.com.

“Amazing Grace is two days of Baptist church condensed to 90 minutes and injected directly into your soul,” Henderson wrote.

Just one critic — Armond White — from the National Review took issue with the film, saying it “misses the heart and genius of Franklin’s art.”

But Frank Ochieng of ScreenAnarchy.com had a differing opinion, calling the doc “soulfully dynamic.”

“Purely uplifting in its astounding skin, Amazing Grace does Aretha Franklin’s legacy proud,” Ochieng wrote.

While Vulture critic, Bilge Ebiri, says “it is a transcendent film.”

Wesley Morris of the New York Times liked the film just as much, calling it “glorious.”

Morris added that he found the movie far more satisfying than Franklin’s nearly eight-hour funeral.

“This movie pays it far more fittingly and far faster than the fiasco of a funeral carried out in her name in August,” he wrote. “It was a morning — well, a morning, afternoon and evening — of grandstanding, chaos and artistic inferiority… The movie is its opposite.”

You can watch the trailer for Amazing Grace below.