Jesus: Pulling off disappearing acts before Houdini made them cool. Joseph Fiennes, Tom Felton, Cliff Curtis and Academy Award nominee Peter Firth star in Risen.
Director – Kevin Reynolds
Screenplay – Kevin Reynolds & Paul Aiello
Producer – Mickey Liddell, Patrick Aiello & Pete Shilaimon
Rated PG-13 for Biblical violence including some disturbing images
Following the crucifixion of Yeshua (Cliff Curtis) and two thieves, Yeshua’s body is purchased by Joseph of Arimathea (Antonio Gil) who buries him in his family’s tomb. Worried the late Nazarene’s devoted followers might pull off a scheme with the buried body in order to create the illusion of fulfilled prophecy, which would in turn lead to an uprising in the already volatile region, Roman governor Pontius Pilate (Peter Firth) orders his Tribune Clavius (Joseph Fiennes) to lock that bad boy up like Fort Knox.
And three days later, the body is found missing.
And as Clavius’s partner, Horatius Cainimus said that day, “Well… looks like there’s now… (puts on shades) room in the inn – YEEEEEEEEAAAAAAAAHHHH!!!!!!!!”
Now concerned over the imminent uprising over rumors of a “risen Jewish Messiah”, Clavius begins an investigation to locate the missing body.
Risen is the next film in the long line of faith-based production that have inundated moviegoers these past few years, and that’d be totally welcome if it wasn’t for the fact that most of them suck.
I mean, come on, I certainly don’t expect them all to be masterpieces like Ben-Hur or The Passion of the Christ, but I can’t be the only one that feel both I and my fellow Christians deserve better than God’s Not Dead, Moms’ Night Out and Nicholas Cage’s Left Behind, right?
But I gotta admit, once in a blue moon, we’ll get a Gimme Shelter or Heaven Is for Real (the latter of which is a flawed, average film at best, but still significantly better than most of the faith-based garbage we’ve gotten) that proves to us God hasn’t entirely forsaken the film industry, and it looks like that blue moon is out shining brightly once again for Risen.
To be fair, “shining brightly” makes it sound like we have shoo-in for Oscar contention when that is far from the case here. Risen has its issues, mainly in how it kinda peters out in the final act, but then again, compared to Kirk Cameron trying to convince the world that Jesus demands us to decorate Christmas trees and buy lots and lots of presents, every other faith-based film shines brightly.
Yes, you’d think that you might be in store for a train wreck with a film directed by Kevin Reynolds, the same guy that gave us Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves, Waterworld and that one dopey James Franco forbidden romance not named Romeo and Juliet. However, save an introductory battle that looks more like a school fight on the playground than a centurion beat-down and a few effects shots that are a tad noticeable, the Kevin Costner low-point extraordinaire has managed to fashion a mostly competent picture in both story and production value.
Part of what makes Risen an interesting flick is in it how avoids the preaching to the choir route and instead turns the perspective to the skeptic centurion Clavius, which provides a nice twist to the traditional resurrection story. As an interrogative mystery, Reynolds, co-writer Paul Aiello, and a strong central performance from Joseph Fiennes, an underrated talent who’s never been able to achieve the reception his brother Ralph has, are all able to keep the viewers engaged as Clavius, aka the film’s Devil’s Advocate, questions fellow centurions, close friends of Jesus and his disciples.
Along with Fiennes, character actors Peter Firth (Equus, The Hunt for Red October) and Cliff Curtis (Three Kings, Training Day, Whale Rider) deliver fine supporting work as Pontius Pilate and Yeshua, respectively. Stewart Scudamore and Stephen Hagan provide some effective moments of levity as the disciples Peter and Bartholomew, the latter sharing a fairly funny scene with Fiennes when the centurion puts the disciple’s zeal to be martyred in check by describing in great detail what actually happens to those who are crucified. Even Tom Felton, whose post-Harry Potter work hasn’t produced much to be desired (especially as the weak link in the still enjoyable Rise of the Planet of the Apes), is solid as Clavius’s right-hand-man.
As mentioned, the film loses steam in its final third. Risen is at its best when Clavius is on his mission to uncover the truth of what happened to Jesus’s missing body. When he uncovers the truth, there’s still 30-40 minutes left to spare in its near 2-hour run time. It’s certainly a bold move to have Clavius experience his conversion about halfway through the film instead of placing it at the conventional end, but much of what fuels Risen’s strength, Clavius’s uncertainty, runs dry post-conversion. Despite Curtis’s fine work as the risen Messiah, when the uncertainty goes, so does a great deal of the film’s interest.
It might seem like I’m damning Risen with faint praise all for simply being better than most of the recent slew of faith-based flicks. I mean, let’s be honest; how difficult is it to be better than Left Behind and Saving Christmas? Nevertheless, Risen is a solid picture on its own right that benefits from a nice perspective twist, a considerably less heavy-handed approach by director Kevin Reynolds and a strong lead turn from Joseph Fiennes. It’s not perfect by any means, but if you’re looking up at the theater marquee and having to decide between this or another Moms’ Night Out or God’s Not Dead, the answer should be obvious.
I give Risen a B- (★★★).