“Risen” is more “The Last Temptation of Christ” than “The Greatest Story Ever Told.” It’s a film that comes wrapped in the theological teachings of the Bible but is really a procedural drama that looks to fill in the gaps left between the crucifixion and the ascension.
This blend will be jarring to those who believe in the strict narrative of the Bible. And, those who love the logical reasoning of a procedural crime drama will have to deal with religion scattered through the tale. Anyone who can appreciate both will find that “Risen” isn’t heavenly, but is a smart look at the origins of personal faith.
“Risen” begins with the crucifixion of Yeshua (Cliff Curtis) under the direction of Clavius (Joseph Fiennes), a non-believer who is a powerful Roman Military Tribune. His work under Pilate (Peter Firth) has put Clavius in line for for power and wealth.
That rise by Clavius is curtailed when the body of Yeshua disappears from a guarded and sealed tomb. Pilate sends Clavius on a mission to discover the truth behind the disappearance as a way of killing any talk that it was a miracle resurrection.
“Risen” bogs down as Clavius sifts through clues and interrogates witnesses. It’s a primitive form of investigation that moves slowly. The only interesting moments is when Clavius talks with Mary Magdalene (Maria Botto). It’s at that moment that Clavius begins to suspect this isn’t the typical crime that Pilate wants it to be.
The story line of Lucius (Tom Felton) as the new second in command for Clavius starts with potential but loses steam quickly. The character ends up being more wasted baggage than key player.
Eventually, Clavius sees the man he watched die on the cross. This is where the film leaves the procedural elements behind and becomes the story of one man’s discovery of faith.
Director Kevin Reynolds should have picked up the movie at this spot. The criminal investigation is nowhere as intriguing as pursuing the question of what would a non-believer do once given absolute proof of a higher being.
This is where Fiennes shines (he seems a little bored going through the investigation). Once his character must deal with his crisis of non-faith, the actor transforms. He maintains the stature he’s earned as a Roman leader but expresses the confusion and acceptance that comes when he finally gets to talk with Yeshua.
Equally as compelling is Curtis. He brings both a power and an openness to the role that makes his version of Jesus one of the best played in film. Credit Reynolds with casting an actor who looks like he was born in the Middle East and not a blond, blue-eyed refugee from the pilots union of a Swedish airline.
Reynolds and Paul Aiello have taken liberties with the Bible, changing what has been written about the days leading up to the ascension. It helps serve the narrative, but this is such hallowed ground that any diversions are dangerous.
But, this isn’t a direct telling of events in the Bible. “Risen” uses the Bible as a basis for a story about finding faith. As long as you look at the movie from that perspective, then it will accomplish its purpose of creating dialogue about being a believer.