Risen, arriving in theatres during the Lenten season, retells the Easter story from a new perspective.
Directed by Kevin Reynolds, the film harks back to Hollywood sword-and-sandal epics but reinvigorates the genre by focusing on the chapters of the New Testament which aren’t typically explored on the silver screen.
Risen’s narrative is mostly told from the point of view of original character Clavius (Joseph Fiennes), who is a Roman military tribune and the right hand man of bureaucrat Pontius Pilate (Peter Firth).
Beginning with the immediate aftermath of the crucifixion, Clavius is appointed by Pilate to take the body of Jesus – called by his Hebrew name Yeshua in the film – of Nazareth from the cross and bury him in a sealed tomb.
As Yeshua (Cliff Curtis) claimed he would rise again, the Jewish clerics want to ensure his disciples don’t steal the body, while scheming Pilate wants to contain any Messiah figures that may threaten his status.
So when the body of Yeshua does disappear from the burial site, Pilate assigns Clavius to find the body. He quickly transitions into the role of detective, making the viewer feel as if they’re watching a 33 A.D. edition of CSI: Jerusalem.
Desperate to find the corpse or a replacement before unrest breaks out between the Romans and the Jews, Clavius and his sidekick Lucius (Tom Felton) begin investigating Yeshua’s life, focusing on the night the body disappeared and the reasons why his followers believe he may be alive once more.
Clavius quizzes the bumbling Roman guards who got drunk and fell asleep while they were meant to be guarding Yeshua’s tomb, unearths fly-ridden corpses, chases down Mary Magdalene (Maria Botto) and questions the disciple Bartholomew (Stephen Hagan).
He eventually locates all 11 disciples, and in a climactic passage, encounters Yeshua face-to-face once again. Those familiar with biblical texts will be unsurprised by the events which unfold at the Sea of Galilee, including the Messiah’s purported appearances.
This is where the film falters, as instead of exploring the more challenging aspects of biblical texts, Reynolds opts to literally portray Yeshua’s resurrection as a series of supernatural stunts.
Clavius’ rejection of his Roman belief systems is also made blatantly obvious, with all of the moments he shares on screen with Yeshua clearly designed to encourage the viewer to conduct their own form of soul searching.
Also a little distracting is that most of the central roles in the film are played by white British actors, whose varying accents tend to distract from the serious dialogue.
Perhaps in an attempt to counter this, the cast includes several Spanish too actors including Antonio Gil as Joseph of Arimathea.
Though the most notable aspect of the casting is the choice of New Zealand-born Maori actor Cliff Curtis to play Yeshua, making for a darker-skinned and possibly more realistic looking version of the Messiah than usually portrayed on film.
Yet for the most part Curtis can’t seem to quite come to grips with the nature of figure he’s playing and with his shaggy brown hair constantly in his face, instead comes across as a sort of beatific surfer dude.
Overall, Risen is the gospel according to Hollywood, and while viewers versed in the Bible may be engaged by its original interpretation of the Holy Book, it’s unlikely that the film will preach to anyone outside of the choir.
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