***1/2 (out of 5)
February 19, 2016
Joseph Fiennes as CLAVIUS
Tom Felton as LUCIUS
Peter Firth as PILATE
Cliff Curtis as YESHUA
Maria Botto as MARY MAGDALENE
Luis Callejo as JOSES
Antonio Gil as JOSEPH OF ARIMATHEA
Richard Atwill as POLYBIUS
Stewart Scudamore as PETER
Directed by: Kevin Reynolds
BY KEVIN CARR
Listen to Kevin’s radio review…
I’ve said many times in the past that faith-based movies can be tricky. More often than not (at least in the modern day now that Hollywood is far more secular than it was when it was releasing movies like “Ben Hur” and “King of Kings”), these tend to be smaller productions that are saddled with all the trappings of their budgets.
They tend to be overly melodramatic and not well acting, often feeling more like a television movie than a major motion picture. “Son of God” from two years ago is a stellar example of it (having actually been a TV miniseries first before being recut into a theatrical release), featuring stilted performances and pedantic dialogue.
However, after spending only a few minutes watching “Risen,” I could tell this was a better production. Sure, it’s on a lower budget than many major movies nowadays, but there’s some actual professional work behind the scenes going on here. It certainly helps having an actor of the quality of Joseph Fiennes leading the cast.
The challenge with this particular movie is that we’ve seen this story of the crucifixion and resurrection a million times before in books, movies, television specials, church plays and the Bible itself. How the filmmakers faced this challenge was to do something a little different. Rather than telling the story from Jesus’ point of view or that of the disciples, it’s told from the point of view of a Roman Tribune.
Fiennes plays Clavius, who has been charged by Pontius Pilate (Peter Firth) to keep an eye on Jesus’ body to ensure it is not stolen for the followers to claim he has come back to life. This sends him on a search through Judea to not just find the body but to explain the miraculous events that appear to have happened.
This perspective shift not only allows the story to be told outside of those who are followers of Jesus (or as he is known in the film, Yeshua), but it also allows us to go places we rarely saw in the more traditional version. Many of the big moments we all know from Sunday school actually take place either in the background of the film or completely off-camera. We don’t need to see all that again. Instead, we get to see things from the Roman perspective, and that sheds a new light on the politics of the day.
One of the biggest criticisms I’ve seen from others about this movie is that it is made for the faithful, but that’s a vacuous criticism. After all, in a movie about faith, at some point you have to choose a side. You can’t make a movie like this and simultaneously show all sides to this story. To this end, atheists aren’t going to like this movie much, and that’s perfectly okay. There are plenty of secular movies out there for them to enjoy.
Why I’m not getting behind this movie for religious reasons, I do respect the preaching it does to the choir (which is what it intends to do). More so, I respect the movie for giving us a well-made production with solid performances and an interesting perspective. Gone are the days of overt Christianity in Hollywood, but the accessibility of moviemaking is such that smaller groups can certainly afford to make a decent film. Not everything has to be as teeth-grindingly awful as “90 Minutes in Heaven” or “The Identical.”