The story of Jesus Christ’s crucifixion and resurrection has been told countless times, but “Risen” looks to tell it from a different perspective. This movie follows powerful Roman Centurion Clavius (Joseph Fiennes) as he is ordered by Pontius Pilate (Peter Firth) to investigate the disappearance of Yeshua’s (aka Jesus of Nazareth) body which has vanished from its resting place. What results is a motion picture that proves to be anti-climactic more than anything else, and that’s regardless of the fact that is better produced than other faith based films out there today.
Things start out with Clavius leading his troops out into battle in a fight scene that looks like something out of “300.” Then we see him as he helps to close off Yeshua’s final resting place which is sealed off with an enormous stone wall. Somehow this wall is breached and Clavius is left with his aide Lucius (Tom Felton) to figure out who absconded with Yeshua’s body, and the answer will forever change what he has been led to believe.
“Risen” was directed by Kevin Reynolds who may be best known for directing “Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves” and the infamous “Waterworld” with his friend and, at times, worst enemy Kevin Costner. He approaches this movie as a detective story more than anything else as Clavius interrogates many people as to who might have made off with Yeshua’s body when the guards were not looking. This is where things are most interesting as it seems like Reynolds is testing us in regards to what we have been taught to believe about Jesus Christ among other things. Witnesses say one thing, but we are skeptical as to what we should accept as truth.
But then Clavius discovers that Yeshua has somehow come back to land of the living, and that’s where the movie fell apart. Perhaps I should mention that “Risen” starts with Clavius roaming the barren landscape, having been deeply affected by an experience we have yet to see him discover for himself. As a result, any tension or suspense this movie hoped to offer its audience is thrown out the window because we already have a pretty good idea of what’s going to happen.
Dramas of any kind suffer tremendously when conflict is absent, and “Risen” quickly renders any potential conflict as null even when the movie could have benefited from a lot more of it. Clavius’ association with the Roman Army quickly becomes non-existent when he sees with his own eyes that Yeshua has somehow come back from the dead. His loyal aide Lucius (Tom “Draco Malfoy” Felton) sees him as a betrayer of the Romans, but any confrontation that could come between the two of them is quickly rendered moot. By the time the movie reaches its conclusion, I couldn’t help but wonder what Reynolds was trying to get across. Was it that belief helps you overcome being a Roman Centurion who helped pin Christ to the crucifix and then leave all that years of training behind in an instant when he discovers Christ has been resurrected? Look, I’m a big believer of that anything is possible, but Clavius’ sudden conversion feels way too far-fetched.
Fiennes is a fine actor (no pun intended) and he does give Clavius a stoicism that would make the common criminal buckle under an especially intense interrogation. At the same time, he makes Clavius a little too stoic to where his face seems far more frozen than it has any right to be. Clavius is supposed to be a very serious dude, but some moments of levity could have helped to at least remind audiences that Fiennes’ range as an actor is much broader than is presented here.
I do, however, have to give credit to Cliff Curtis for giving us a powerfully mesmerizing interpretation of Yeshua/Jesus of Nazareth. Whenever he appears onscreen, the actor exudes a sereneness and calm that is not as easy to pull off as he makes it look. This is the same actor who played FBI Deputy Director Miguel Bowman in “Live Free or Die Hard,” and here he digs into this role internally to where you are desperate to follow him no matter where he goes. His performance makes this movie more watchable than it would have been otherwise.
Aside from that, “Risen” is beautiful to look at thanks to director of photography Lorenzo Senatore, but there’s not much about the movie to recommend. The story of the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ has been told in more compelling ways than what is presented here onscreen. But being that this is a Kevin Reynolds movie, it won’t really matter what audiences think of it because Kevin Costner will watch it and say he could have made it better.
Copyright Ben Kenber 2016