By Mark Saldana
Rating: 3 (Out of 4 Stars)
There have been various movie adaptations about the life, work, death and impact of Jesus Christ, but most of these films follow a certain formula. The epic 1959 motion picture Ben Hur takes another route and tells a tale about the impact of Jesus on the life a Jerusalem prince-turned-Roman slave. Risen takes a similar approach, but its scope is smaller and simpler. Actor Joseph Fiennes stars as Clavius, a Roman officer tasked with handling the delicate political matter of Jesus’ crucifixion and the effects of the circulating rumors of his resurrection.
A decorated and well respected centurion, Clavius dutifully serves under Pontius Pilate (Peter Firth), the man who gives the final order for Jesus’ execution. With all of the controversy surrounding the crucifixion, Pilate orders Clavius to see that all goes smoothly. When the Pharisees grow concerned over the impact of the rumors proclaiming the resurrection of Jesus, Pilate sends Clavius to investigate further, and reveal the truth behind the matter.
Written by Kevin Reynolds, Paul Aiello, and directed by Reynolds, Risen offers audiences an interesting and fresh approach to the Jesus story, though not an entirely original one. Still, the fact that the film’s story is told from the perspective of a non-believing Roman tribune offers audiences a distinct element that other stories don’t. For the most part, the writing is decent enough with few silly moments. Reynolds and Aiello have made a film with a lot of heart and some emotional depth, but one that is fairly transparent. From the beginning it is pretty obvious what will happen to the protagonist, but the exact details are a little less clear.
As Clavius, Joseph Fiennes offers a solid and sincere performance. I suppose it is tradition that Romans get portrayed by British/Shakespearian actors and Risen continues this tradition. On the other hand, I was pleasantly surprised and pleased that the casting director went with a non-traditional choice for the casting of Jesus (or Yeshua, as he is called in the movie). With dark and eyes and black hair, Cliff Curtis is an inspired and refreshing choice for the character of Jesus and with much heart and charisma, the talented actor pulls it off nicely. The film also stars Tom Felton who performs well as Clavius’ underling Lucius and Peter Firth who hams up a bit too much as Pontius Pilate. The various actors who portray Yeshua’s disciples offer lovely performances as does (insert actress’ name) who portrays Mary Magdalene.
Though this film is not excellent, it still is a compelling and interesting piece. I cannot say it will inspire non-Christians, atheists, or agnostics to believe, but it does make for a fine movie for those who do believe. Most faith-based, Christian movies are poorly made with terrible acting, but it is nice when a good gets made. Risen is one of the good ones, and even though it is worth watching (at least once), it doesn’t quite achieve greatness in my opinion.