"We're the biggest band you've never heard of," says Hillsong United guitarist Jad Gillies in Hillsong - Let Hope Rise, a concert-based documentary that charts the Christian pop group's phenomenal worldwide success. And he's right. For those who have never darkened the door of a church, the band is certainly a complete unknown. Yet even those who regularly attend a contemporary Christian worship service might not realize that they are singing praise anthems from the Hillsong catalogue (the group claim that 50 million churchgoers sing their songs each Sunday). The band is an outgrowth of Hillsong, an Australian Pentecostal megachurch that was initially founded in Sydney, and which now has offshoots in 15 countries on six continents (including congregations in New York, London, Moscow, Cape Town, and Paris). The former church youth band, known for their thoughtful, high-energy praise songs, have sold several million albums and performed jam-packed concerts at venues such as London's O2 Arena and Brooklyn's Barclays Center. And Hillsong - Let Hope Rise is at its best when it focuses on those concerts. Fans will certainly be singing along to such favorites as "Relentless,"" "Mighty to Save,"" "Oceans (Where Feet May Fail),"" and "Touch the Sky."" Unfortunately, director Michael John Warren (who also helmed the Jay-Z concert documentary Fade to Black) too often cuts away to offer peeks into the various band members' lives, despite the fact that these interruptions fail to reveal much of interest. Instead, we get a series of boilerplate statements: Life on the road can be difficult on families; songwriting can be a struggle; being in ministry doesn't pay much; etc. Warren also employs a countdown to one of the band's shows at the Forum in Los Angeles, which leads one to expect lengthy footage from the concert when it finally arrives. But, alas, this never happens, which seems odd given that the film states at its beginning that it intends to be a worship experience. Joel Houston, Hillsong United frontman and the son of Hillsong founders Brian and Bobbie Houston, notes that their mainstream pop-rock hymns and worship-filled concerts are intended to draw attention to their faith, not themselves. "In the end, our success is not about us, it's ultimately about God," he says. "You take him out of the equation, you've got nothing." That should have been Warren's cue to focus more on the music and less on the band; the moments when he does so, as in a scene where he allows Hillsong's Taya Smith to sing an uninterrupted, nearly ten-minute rendition of "Oceans,"" his documentary soars and becomes -- in a word - heavenly.
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This documentary traces the history of Australia-based Christian worship band Hillsong United, from their humble beginnings in a tiny church outside of Sydney to their success as a thriving international ministry. Directed by Michael John Warren. ~ Violet LeVoit
All Movie Guide - Tim Holland