Dan's Review: "Risen" offers an approachable Jesus
Joseph Fiennes and Tom Felton in Risen - © 2015 - TriStar Pictures
Rated PG-13 for Biblical violence including some disturbing images.
Starring Joseph Fiennes, Tom Felton, Peter Firth, Cliff Curtis, Stewart Scudamore, Leonor Watling, Mark Killeen, Rumbull Hayward, Pepe Lorente, Jan Cornet, Mario Tardón, Joe Manjón, Stavros Demetraki, Mish Boyko, Stephen Hagan, Manu Fullola, Alberto Ayala, Luis Callejo, Selva Rasalingam.
Written by Kevin Reynolds and Paul Aiello.
Directed by Kevin Reynolds.
When it comes to biblical movies, the old gag goes something like this: “The book was better.” All jokes aside, it’s a philosophy I actually agree with, since I’ve found deeper meaning in scripture than I have from any movie screen. All too often, film producers go for the “hard sell” in religious movies, perhaps in blatant attempts to pander to religious folks who thirst for entertainment that aligns with their deep spiritual beliefs. Risen, starring Joseph Fiennes as a Roman involved in the crucifixion of Jesus is not one of those “pandering” movies.
Fiennes plays Clavius, a powerful Roman tribune working under the direction of Pontius Pilate (Peter Firth) in Jerusalem. Charged with keeping the peace and the Sanhedrin in check, Clavius shows up at the Crucifixion just after Yeshua (a.k.a, Jesus - played by Cliff Curtis) has died. Fearing shenanigans from Jesus’ followers, the Sanhedrin demands that the Romans watch the fallen Lord’s tomb to make sure no one steals the body and fakes his foretold resurrection.
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According to the Good Book, Jesus’ body disappears from the tomb, and the Roman guards flee when otherworldly beings show up on three days after the Crucifixion. Clavius is charged with getting to the bottom of the mystery, and is appointed Lucius (Tom Felton), a lieutenant to help him. As Clavius rounds up Jesus’ followers, he begins to doubt his own sense of logic. His loyalties are especially challenged when he meets the risen Lord, and he is forced to choose between his duty and the man who claims to be savior of the world.
Risen has a tendency to bog down in a lot of Biblical politics, making some of the film suffer from a deliberate lack of pacing. There are plenty of expository speeches from Romans, Christians and Jewish sides of biblical history, making me wonder if there weren’t more subtle ways of getting the religious point across.
Even with these procedural issues, Risen has a lot going for it. The first is Fiennes’ performance, which gives an otherwise Hallmark Channel quality production a little more gravitas. Second, and perhaps the movie’s greatest triumph is the casting of Cliff Curtis as Jesus, and his personable portrayal of the risen Lord. Curtis’ performance as the Son of God is less god-like, and more like a man who sincerely loves everyone he meets. He’s an accessible man, not a glowing deity. It is perhaps the most endearing and pleasant depiction of Jesus I’ve ever seen, and certainly aligns with my own beliefs as to the nature of Christ.
All casting triumphs aside, I sincerely hold to the idea that one cannot (and perhaps should not) establish religious beliefs based on films that are tailored to manipulate your emotions. Such spiritual depth comes from careful study and service (something Jesus preached often) and not from paid actors. A film like Risen succeeds in reinforcing already-held beliefs (like mine), without pandering.
*Interesting note: In Risen, Tom Felton plays a man named Lucius, working for a man (Joseph Fiennes) played by the actor who is the brother of the actor (Ralph Fiennes) who played Voldemort in the Harry Potter movies. Felton played Draco in the HP movies, the son Lucius, who served Voldemort. Cinematic wizardry?