Hillsong United may sound like a lower division English football club, but it's actually one of the biggest rock bands in the world, selling millions of albums, filling arenas and regularly topping the Christian pop charts. The innocuous documentary "Hillsong — Let Hope Rise" aims to bring the Australian-based group's message of a faith to a larger audience through performance clips, behind-the-scenes footage and interviews, all built around a 2014 concert at the Forum in Inglewood.
An offshoot of Sydney's Hillsong Church, a 30-year-old global phenomenon rooted in the Pentecostal tradition, United is a harmonious 11-member ensemble whose sound is reminiscent of Coldplay and "Joshua Tree"-era U2. Director Michael John Warren intersperses peppy, bite-size songlets and interviews with the main musicians, identified as "worship leaders," with an all-too brief history of the church.
At home, the band members' modest lifestyles are more reflective of their day jobs as pastors and employees of the church than the rock stars they are on the road — characterized by the San Clemente beach house they stay in while writing songs for a new album and prepping for the Forum show. The film is at its most effective when band members and lead pastor Brian Houston testify to the strength their faith provides during times of crisis.
Though there is undeniable uplift to the performances and Warren builds to a suitably inspiring crescendo, the film's hybrid format may prove frustrating. Fans looking for a cinematic concert experience will need to wait until the second half to get anything approaching a full song, while the uninitiated may desire a fuller narrative describing how the band went from a weekly youth-group jam session to full-blown arena rockers.
'Hillsong — Let Hope Rise'
MPAA rating: PG, for some thematic elements
Running time: 1 hour 43 minutes
Playing: In general release