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Movie Review

What motivates someone to make a movie? There are financial reasons, of course. But apart from those, I think most moviemakers' motivations probably fall into one of two camps. There's the desire to tell an entertaining, visually engaging story. And then there's the drive to persuade, teach, or motivate viewers to take action in response to a film's message.

Hillsong—Let Hope Rise feels to me like it was motivated by a third factor: the desire to encourage viewers to enter into the worship of their Creator … right in their movie seats.

Now, that's not to say this documentary is exclusively devoted to musical worship for an hour and 45 minutes. There are plenty of interviews with band members, for instance. Plus, the camera shows up to capture personal family moments, late-night songwriting and recording sessions, as well as taking historical jaunts back in time to give viewers a better perspective of the humble beginnings behind the Hillsong Church movement in Australia that launched this global worship phenomena.

That said, the draw here is worship. And we're invited to enter into a lot of it throughout the musical and spiritual journey that Hillsong—Let Hope Rise chronicles.

The Biggest Band No One Has Ever Heard Of

For those who attend a church that sings three traditional hymns each Sunday (or for who don't attend a church at all), it's likely that this modern praise-and-worship "movement" might leave them scratching their heads a bit.

How is it that a relatively unknown band from Australia is filling arenas of 12,000 attendees or more? Where did these folks come from? How is it that on any given Sunday, an estimated 50,000,000 believers around the world sing at least one Hillsong worship tune?

One of the group's worship leaders, Jad Gillies underscores the unlikelihood of it all when he admits in the film, "We're the biggest band you've never heard of." And as the camera sweeps across a panorama of thousands of worshipers at the Forum in Los Angeles, one gets the feeling he's exactly right.

A Global Influence

Perhaps the best way to understand the breadth of Hillsong's global influence is to think of this group's litany of worship songs (11 albums selling more than 16 million copies, we're told) almost as being spiritual equivalents of the "Happy Birthday" song. Virtually no one knows who wrote "Birthday." Yet around the globe, millions sing it every day before celebrating a birthday with loved ones.

A similar dynamic is in play when it comes to Hillsong's many worship "hits," if you will, songs such as "Shout to the Lord," "Blessed Be," "How Great Is Our God," "Forever Reign" and "Cornerstone," among many, many others (including a long list of newer songs performed in this documentary).

Viewers are reminded just how profound this movement's reach is when the band's worship song "Mighty to Save" gets belted out in montage fashion around the world by people of all skin colors, ages, and locales. Collectively, they strum ukuleles, pick on guitars, harmonize in three-part-fashion, use sign language and sway back and forth as part of an African children's choir, all singing the same beloved anthem to God's graciousness.

In another scene, a woman vocalizes the song's lyrics while doing her laundry. It's one of those, "These songs are everywhere!" moments.

A Glimpse Behind the Curtain

Now, you might wonder if there's any negativity here at all. And the answer to that question depends somewhat on how you define that word.

Several personal interviews highlight the toll that touring has on the band members' families. J.D., another worship musician, admits, "It's tough on my family and my sanity…it's not worth it for what we're getting paid."

Lest, some think that J.D. is coming off as a complainer, however, it's more complicated than that. It's clear he (and the others) believe strongly in their calling and mission. They aren't in it for the money. But they won't gloss over the fact that there's been a real price to be paid—especially in the financial area. J.D. states that he's fully aware that with stadiums full of people, it must seem to the average attendee that band members are likely wallowing in wealth. But, as J.D. says, not only does ne not live in a mansion, he doesn't even own a home at all.

So is giving us a glimpse behind the curtain at the price these musicians have paid a bad thing? I don't think so, because it gives us a deeper sense of the real issues and struggles these musicians face as they strive to be faithful to what God has called them to do.

Can You Worship at the Multiplex?

Given what this new genre of film, the worship movie, hopes to accomplish, perhaps the most important question is this: Will moviegoers actually be drawn into genuine worship? I can only speak from my own experience, and I have to answer that it's a bit yes and a bit no.

Worshiping via film is a different experience than worshiping live with musicians in the same room. For me, that makes a it a step down from the "real thing."

That said, how many live events can Hillsong band members do each year? Not many in comparison to the myriad cities, towns and villages that would welcome a Hillsong worship experience. The solution is to document the experience via a big-screen event (and eventually the small-screen version that will be accessible via video) that replicates the experience for those who are unable to attend a Hillsong concert. Looking at it from that perspective, some might say that it's better than nothing at all.

But this worship experience is not just "better than nothing at all." For me, there were times when the worship time in the theater brought tears to my eyes. And that's something that doesn't happen every Sunday!

There was one more thing that worked for me as well. In a time when the world at large seems in dangerous disarray, it was incredibly refreshing to see thousands of people in one location gather for the express purpose of lifting up Jesus with all their hearts.

Hillsong—Let Hope Rise delivers a stirring, refreshing—and musically familiar—reminder that Jesus still reigns amid the chaos of our world, and that He invites us to worship and adore Him in it … even if that's in a theater.

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Positive Elements

Spiritual Content

Sexual Content

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Crude or Profane Language

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Credits

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PG

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Author

Cast

Michael Guy Chislett; Matt Crocker; Adam Crosariol; Jonathon "J.D." Douglass; Jad Gillies; Bobbie Houston; Brian Houston; Joel Houston; Simon Kobler; Taya Smith; Benjamin Tennikoff; Dylan Thomas

Director

Michael John Warren ( )

Distributor

Pure Flix Entertainment

Network

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In Theaters

September 16, 2016

On Video

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