Risen full movie review - "Risen" breathes new life into "the greatest story ever told".
What's in a name? When that name is Jesus, the answer is? a lot.
It's nearly impossible, at least in a largely Christian nation like the United States, for the hearing of that name not to bring to mind very specific ideas, feelings and personal beliefs, regardless of the hearer's own religious inclinations. That makes it difficult for most westerners to view a movie about Jesus with objectivity and dispassion. Maybe that's why the filmmakers behind "Risen" (PG-13, 1:47) chose to keep that famous name out of the title of their movie ? and most of its script. Rather than referring to the man underlying the film's plot by that name that is so rife with meaning for so many people, the script almost exclusively uses Yeshuah, the Hebrew form of that world-famous name. The film also avoids showcasing an actor who is another version of the traditional western "blonde-haired, blue-eyed Jesus" in the pivotal role, instead opting for someone who looks more like Jesus/Yeshuah probably looked. What's more, while the question of who Jesus really was is central to the plot, this movie isn't really about Jesus, who is only a supporting character. These decisions by the filmmakers allow western audience members a fighting chance to take in this film with relatively fresh eyes and ears and experience it as the original story it is.
The major players in the story of Jesus' death and resurrection are here: Pontius Pilate (Oscar nominee Peter Firth), the governing prefect of the Roman province of Judaea and the man who ordered Jesus' crucifixion; Caiaphas (Stephen Grief), the High Priest of Judaea and the man who led the opposition to Jesus' and demanded his crucifixion; Joseph of Arimathea (Antonio Gil), a member of the Jewish council (the Sanhedrin) and the man who donated his tomb as a resting place for Jesus' body; Jesus' mother, Mary (Frida Cauchi); the presumed former prostitute, Mary Magdalene (María Botto); the 12 disciples (or "11 now," as one character notes) ? with Simon Peter (Stewart Scudamore) and Bartholomew (Joe Manjón) getting the most screen time ? and of course, "Jesus, who is called the Christ," as the Bible refers to him (award winning actor Cliff Curtis). But the film's main character isn't in the Bible and was created for this version of the story: the Roman tribune, Clavius (Golden Globe winner Joseph Fiennes).
This film follows Clavius as he investigates the claims of Jesus' resurrection ? first because he is told to, and later because he feels he needs to. Clavius is a capable, but jaded Roman army officer whom Pilate relies on to do things like mercilessly quell local uprisings and otherwise help keep the peace in his province ? especially with the Roman Emperor Tiberius scheduled to visit soon. Naturally, Pilate calls upon Clavius to make sure Jesus' dies quickly on that cross and then to ensure that the tomb is properly secured and that his followers don't steal the body and then claim that Jesus fulfilled his promise to rise from the dead. When Clavius' appointed guards fall asleep on duty and Jesus' body disappears anyway, it falls to Clavius and his ambitious new assistant, Lucius (Tom Felton), to find out what really happened.
Clavius leaves no stone unturned (literally) in his efforts to stop rumors of Jesus' resurrection before they can multiply and create problems for the Roman authorities. Clavius orders the examination of every adult Jewish male corpse from the past week in the hopes of finding Jesus' body ? or any body that he can pass off as Jesus'. Clavius interviews a number of people (including some mentioned in the previous paragraph), but instead of uncovering the assumed conspiracy, he's repeatedly confronted with stubborn and sincere professions of faith. Clavius hopes that finding where the rest of the disciples are hiding will help him get to the bottom of these resurrection rumors, but ends up wondering if those rumors might not be rumors at all. He ends up following the disciples to Galilee where Jesus is supposed to appear to his disciples in person. Let's just say that Clavius gets the answers he seeks ? and more.
"Risen" is an original and effective re-telling of what is often called "the greatest story ever told". The performances are excellent and the film even includes a few laughs ? not jokes, per se, but well-played light-hearted moments that break the tension. Co-written and directed by Kevin Reynolds (who also directed the fantastic 2002 film version of "The Count of Monte Cristo"), tells a story which is very faithful to the biblical accounts, as it seamlessly weaves the fictional Clavius into the narrative. Where this film falls down a bit is in the realism department. The battle-hardened Clavius is portrayed as too easy-going when it comes to his manner and methods as he investigates the resurrection, and the film sometimes strains credulity as it tries to accommodate its obvious objective of appealing to the faithful, and maybe even winning a few converts along the way. Of course, skeptics will also take exception to the extraordinary assumptions made in the film's core narrative. However, this film is fresher, more compellingly acted and better produced than most accounts of the most important part of the New Testament. Although there are short scenes of violence, some blood and shots of rotting corpses, "Risen" is mostly family-friendly (except maybe for small children) and also pretty entertaining. "B+"