Now I have to say in all fairness that I am a pastor of 24 years and of course believe and adhere to the tenants of the Christian faith. But I am also a film fanatic and thought it would be fun to do a weekly blog about faith and film. Each week my local movie theater runs a $5 movie special and that gives me an opportunity to sneak away see a wide variety of features. On the agenda this week is the new release Risen.
Risen is directed by Kevin Reynolds (Waterworld) and stars Joseph Fiennes (Shakespeare in Love) as Clavius a seasoned Roman soldier, Tom Felton (Harry Potter) as Lucius a younger Roman soldier and Peter Firth (MI:5) as the Roman leader Pontius Pilate. The story centers around the death and mysterious disappearance of Yeshua an influential Nazarene leader of the Jews. In other words the story of Jesus’s resurrection and was it true or not.
(warning spoilers ahead)
The story of Risen takes place from the viewpoint of Clavius a Roman soldier charged with keeping order and peace in the midst of much social, political and religious conflict. These conflicts often lead to mini battles in the countryside that have a high casualty rate on both sides. The movie opens with Clavius returning from one of those conflicts bloodied, tired and just wanting to rest when Pilate summons him. Pilate tells Clavius he has just ordered the crucifixion of Yeshua, a local Nazarene leader and to make sure this Nazarene’s sentence is carried out so that the uprising within the Jewish community can be squelched before the Roman Emperor arrives the following week. Clavius presides over the crucifixion and makes sure the stone placed over the grave of Yeshua has the Roman seal upon it. 48 hours later the body of Yeshua has disappeared and Clavius begins the hunt to find it.
One of the first things that jumps out about the film is the gritty, bleak conflict-filled world that existed around the time that Jesus was alive. Reynolds takes time to show us what that conflict looks like and he does not spare the violence that was involved, thus the PG-13 rating. As far as the individual performances are concerned Fiennes is the obvious heavyweight in this group of actors and does a passable job as the conflicted warrior. The rest of the cast are okay with Firth hitting a few good marks as Pilate. However Felton still comes across as if he’s doing a harry potter movie, and his lack of depth surfaces rather quickly.
The struggle of Risen is that it never decides what kind of story it’s going to tell. It begins as a story of anguish and conflict within Fiennes’ character who is just trying to find peace in the world. Then when the body of Jesus disappears it turns into an episode of CSI, with bodies being dug up and evidence poured over to try and prove that Yeshua is still dead. Finally in the third act it shifts again and tries to recapture Fiennes search for peace.
As far as movies with the theme of faith that have hit the market in the last few years Risen is definitely a cut above the rest. With Reynolds at the helm its production value is on par with other major motion pictures being released. There are great themes that come across in this movie such as love, compassion, forgiveness and mercy all which fall into line with Christian values. The disciples are played very lightly with much enthusiasm and wonderment that anything is possible because of the time they have spent with Jesus. One of the things that I really appreciated about the movie was the frankness that even the disciples themselves struggled with faith and did not believe until they saw Jesus arisen.
Though far from perfect it is an enjoyable film and my suspicion is it will find a good niche within the faith community and will be a film that not only dad and mom enjoys but their teenagers as well.
2 1/2 stars
Husband, Father, Minister, Film Fanatic, Book Enthusiast, Board Game Collector, and Lover of Life!