In time for Easter, "Risen" is a lovely film about the Resurrection of Jesus Christ (Yeshua, his Hebrew name used throughout the film) and the fervent search for his body by a Roman military tribune named Clavius (Joseph Fiennes). Commanded by Pontius Pilate (Peter Firth) and aided by a young inexperienced soldier, Lucius (Tom Felton), Clavius must find Yeshua (Cliff Curtis) or his remains before his followers create an unwanted disturbance in Jerusalem.
"Risen" begins with the Biblical story of Yeshua's crucifixion and subsequent burial by one of his admirers, Joseph of Arimathea (Antonio Gil) in his family's tomb. Pilate, along with the Jewish scribes, does not want the prophesy of a risen Messiah to come true, so guards are placed in front of the burial site. But when Yeshua's body is discovered missing, Clavius is tasked with finding him to disprove the rumor of Yeshua coming back to life.
Fiennes is an excellent choice for Clavius. He's a fine actor though his resume is far less impressive than his older brother Ralph. He handles faithfully the scenes in which he recognizes the risen Yeshua, without the slightest hint of mockery or falseness. His role is much better constructed than Pilate's, and allows for believable interaction with the Apostles, especially Peter played by Stewart Scudamore.
The screenplay for "Risen" was written by Paul Aiello and Kevin Reynolds, who also directs. It has its flashes of brilliance when Clavius is interrogating one of the guards, but other times, most often in the scenes employing Pontius Pilate, the script is terribly uneven.
Firth is an extraordinary thespian who is capable of far superior acting than is evidenced here. But, unfortunately, that is mainly the fault of the writing. Pilate, in some Biblical interpretations, is described as not necessarily eager to crucify Jesus. In "Risen" he is portrayed as a boozy buffoon with limited verbal resources, and even less recourse to deal with the Jewish leaders.
"Risen" is beautifully filmed by Lorenzo Senatore, utilizing Spain and Malta to substitute for the desert surrounding Jerusalem. And the gorgeous soundtrack by Roque Baños is an important complement to this moving story of a non-believer's experience with Yeshua.
Opinion: Mild See It Now!
You may be a believer in Christ's Resurrection, a non-Christian, an atheist or an agnostic. Wherever you stand, as a moviegoer I'm confident you will find "Risen" to be highly entertaining.
Director and co-writer Kevin Reynolds, along with screenwriter Paul Aiello, wanted to present the events of Jesus' crucifixion and subsequent rise from the dead as a mystery to be solved by a true skeptic. In this case, that would be a Roman tribune named Clavius, portrayed by Joseph Fiennes.
Clavius oversees the crucifixion of Yeshua (Cliff Curtis), the Hebrew name for Jesus, and two others. But when word spreads that Yeshua's body is missing, Pontius Pilate (Peter Firth) instructs Clavius and his young aide, Lucius (Tom Felton, Draco Malfoy in the "Harry Potter" films) to find "The Nazarene" and kill him if he is, in fact, still alive.
"Risen" is an exciting new slant on the Biblical version of Christ's return to the living, by involving Clavius, a loyal soldier for 25 years, devoted to his emperor. But he is torn with doubt when he witnesses for himself that Yeshua is indeed, very much among the living. Fiennes renders a strong performance, both as a physical presence on the battlefield, and as a man completely transformed by a miracle which contradicts everything he ever believed.
Curtis is a descendant of the Maori tribe of New Zealand, and as such, the olive-skinned actor portrays Yeshua as he might have really looked, as opposed to contemporary depictions of a blue-eyed Christ. He and Fiennes avoided any contact during the filming of "Risen" except when both were on set, resulting in a more convincing aura of wonderment when they are on screen together. For added realism, Reynolds had Curtis strapped to a cross for hours at a time.
"Risen" could have been cheesy and melodramatic, but it is truly captivating. The Apostles, especially, are presented as likeable everyday fishermen, devoted to Yeshua. When their friend vanishes in a blaze of light,, they are as shocked and dismayed as anyone else. The obvious standout of the Apostles in the film is Peter (Stewart Scudamore), the eldest of the 11 men, the one who interacts with Clavius the most, and the one who provides poignancy as well as comic relief.
Filmed in Spain and on the island of Malta, "Risen" is a stunning movie to behold. Award-winning Spanish composer Roque Baños provides the excellent score, and veteran cinematographer Lorenzo Senatore frames the picture with breathtaking vistas.
Opinion: See It Now!