'Risen': Film Review

Risen - Joseph Fiennes and Tom Felton - still 1 - H 2016
Courtesy of CTMG
Not very inspirational.

Joseph Fiennes plays a Roman tribune investigating the mysterious disappearance of Jesus' body in this Biblical drama directed by Kevin Reynolds.

A disorienting combination of throwback to such Hollywood biblical epics of yore as The Robe (recently spoofed in the Coen brothers' Hail, Caesar!) and CSI-style crime procedural, the latest effort from Sony Pictures' faith-based division is clearly aiming for a Passion of the Christ-style crossover appeal. But lacking the visceral intensity of that Mel Gibson film and not offering much of interest to the secular crowd, Risen isn't likely to rise very far at the box office.

The narrative hook of this film directed and co-scripted by Kevin Reynolds (Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves, Waterworld) is recounting the story of Jesus' (here referred to only by the Hebrew name Yeshua) crucifixion and resurrection through the perspective of a Roman tribune (Joseph Fiennes). Unfortunately named Clavius — you'll have a hard time not thinking of him as clavicle — he's a leathery, tough-as-nails soldier who has no problem fulfilling Pontius Pilate's (Peter Firth) order to oversee the crucifixion.

"I had to crucify him," Pilate informs his loyal soldier, before adding "Don't give me that look!" like a henpecked husband.

Personally finishing Yeshua (Cliff Curtis) off with a fatal sword thrust, Clavicle (uh, Clavius — see what I mean?) makes sure that the body is properly buried in a cave. Shortly afterwards, Pilate, prompted by Caiaphas' (Stephen Greif) warning that the prophet's followers will steal his corpse to convince the citizenry that he is indeed the Messiah, tells Clavius to station guards by the gravesite. If you don't know what happens next, you're definitely not the target audience.

Like a biblical Sam Spade, Clavius embarks on "the manhunt that changed the course of human history," as the film's poster puts it. His investigation, conducted with the help of a sycophantic aide (Tom Felton), inevitably leads him to the Apostles, here resembling fraternity brothers at a Northwestern college, and Mary Magdalene (Maria Botto).  

The latter figure inspires one of the film's more amusing moments, when Clavius enters a barrack filled with Roman soldiers and asks, "Who among you knows the woman Mary Magdalene?" Slowly and sheepishly, nearly all of them raise their hand.

Eventually Clavius finds Yeshua blithely holding court with his disciples. He smiles beatifically at Clavius, who literally has a come-to-Jesus moment when he realizes this is the man who stared lifelessly at him from atop the cross. Abandoning his soldierly duties, he becomes a convert, marveling as Yeshua performs such miracles as raising a bounty of fish from the sea and curing a leper. By the time he witnesses Yeshua ascending into the sky, he's become transformed, as evidenced by his actually smiling once in a while.

Despite the usual bible movie quirks, such as all the Romans speaking in British accents — the hapless soldiers guarding the cave seem to have stepped out of a comedy sketch show — Risen is fairly engrossing in its thriller-like section, with Fiennes' restrained performance providing a solid dramatic anchor and the Maori actor Curtis being a nice change from the usual blonde-hair/blue-eyed Jesus. But when the film shifts into inspirational territory it ironically becomes far more prosaic, depicting the miracles in a low-budget, low-key fashion that will hardly win any converts.

Distributor: Columbia Pictures
Production: Liddell Entertainment, AFFIRM Films, Patrick Aiello Productions
Cast: Joseph Fiennes, Tom Felton, Peter Firth, Cliff Curtis, Maria Botto, Luis Callejo, Antonio Gil, Richard Atwill
Director: Kevin Reynolds
Screenwriters: Kevin Reynolds, Paul Aiello
Producers: Patrick Aiello, Mickey Liddell
Executive producers: Robert Huberman, Scott Holroyd
Director of photography: Lorenzo Senatore
Production designer: Stefano Maria Ortolani
Editor: Steven Mirkovich
Composer: Roque Banos
Costume designers: Onelio Millenottti, Giovanni Casalnuovo
Casting: John Hubbard, Ros Hubbard

Rated PG-13, 108 minutes