Review: ‘Risen’

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Julia Zaksek , Staff writer

Let’s be honest, most faith-based films Hollywood has churned out in the last 10 years have either been overly sentimental, uncomfortably preachy or just plain mundane. More often than not, they’re all three. “Risen,” written and directed by Kevin Reynolds, tries to veer off this beaten path of mediocre melodrama. It follows Clavius (Joseph Fiennes), a Roman military tribune who just wants to put his feet up and have a tankard after returning to Judah from war.

The film starts out strong with an interesting twist on the classic biblical yarn. It’s been retold from a plethora of angles, but I can guarantee you’ve never seen it told like a procedural cop flick.

Shortly after his return, a still bloody Clavius treks out to the city’s crucifixion site. Pontius Pilate (Peter Firth), the town prefect, ordered him to break the legs of an apparent nobody Jewish peasant who’d been causing trouble in the synagogues. But, before he can do as Pilate asked, the so-called King of Jews, Jesus of Nazareth, dies.

The viewpoint of Clavius in particular is what really sets the film apart. To an ancient version of our modern day sheriff, deranged prophets, seers and self-proclaimed messiahs were all too common for anyone’s taste.

Finally, the poor guy gets to go home. Then, well, you know the story. Three days pass, and on the third morning Clavius is awoken: the body is gone.

And thus ends the introduction on CSI: Judah. Clavius and his leather-covered crew go on red alert. They search the town, dig up graves and arrest followers. Most religious films have very character-based, gradual storytelling, but not “Risen.” The fast paced action throughout the film’s middle kept it from getting bogged down and on its feet. The hunt, although predictable, added suspense and keep my interest.  

Finally tipped off, Clavius barges in an upper room, sword drawn, to find a sight that will shatter his Roman paganism forever.

This is where things started tailspinning. “Risen” was written as a fictional narrative, I get that. But, I found the film’s appeal to be in the “it probably happened something like this,” aspect. This made the film feel grounded in realism and biblical consistency.

Disappointingly, the last half hour consisted of the copying and pasting of Clavius into various biblical main events with a few too well-known verses added in for effect.

However, Clavius’ reaction to new found revelation redeems some of this heavy handed storytelling. Despite seeing a clearly resurrected Jesus, he admits that he still harbors doubt and disbelief. This is an unexpectedly honest portrayal of religion. Many Christian-based movies show conversion like a snap of the fingers with the new believer suddenly wiped clean of doubt and an entirely different person.

This theme is also entertained when after being asked a series of questions by Clavius, the disciple Peter responds, “I don’t know, I don’t know, and I don’t know, but I wish to find out.”

Religion isn’t shown to be a cure-all ills miracle. It’s revealed to be a reaction to something unexplainable. For this unglamorous, unhollywood like approach, and its effort to be different, I give “Risen” a B-.