Movie Review: Risen

Risen, staring Joseph Fiennes as a Roman tribune named Clavius, and directed by Kevin Reynolds (The Count of Monte Cristo), opened in theaters this last Friday (2/19/16) across the country. So early Saturday I treated myself to a viewing of the film and thought I might write a brief review on it. The movie is interesting in its approach, in that it tells the Gospel account of the resurrection of Jesus from the perspective of a non-believer, in this case a pagan Roman tribune named Clavius. In this regard, it is much more similar to biblical classics as The Robe, or Ben Hur, than to the traditional straightforward biblical epic.

The movie essentially begins with a small Roman force, led by Clavius, putting down a small rebel cell of Jewish zealots, which include the recently freed Barabbas. Soon after Clavius is summoned by Pontius Pilate, where he is ordered to show the small mercy of “breaking the legs” of some condemned souls who’s punishment of crucifixion is already underway. While in route, they experience an apparent earth quake, and arrive to find Jesus is already dead – which is confirmed with a sphere. He orders the legs broken of the two criminals crucified alongside Jesus to expedite their deaths. Shortly after, Joseph of Arimathea arrives to take the body of Jesus to place in a family tomb.

Next, the High Priest Caiaphas requests of Pilate that the tomb be sealed and placed under guard, fearing Jesus’ followers may try and steal the body. Clavius, carrying out Pilate’s orders, places the Roman seal and two guards at the tomb. Three days later, the seal is broken, the body missing and the Roman guards in hiding – telling the religious leaders the body was stolen. What follows is an inspiring and fascinating “who done it” type detective story, even if we (the audience) are already in on what happened.

It is a unique way to experience the story of Jesus’ Resurrection. Clavius, after all, is a pagan who prays to Mars, and cares little for the emerging stories of Jesus resurrection, he simply wants to find & identify the body before it decomposes beyond recognition and catch the culprits. In this pursuit, bodies are exhumed from their graves, and potential suspects rounded up for interrogation. Clavius finally manages to hear what ‘really happened’ from one of the guards he posted, but dismisses the account with a simple explanation, “you were drunk.” He also manages to locate Mary Magdalene, after what I will only say is a subtly humorous scene to which I admittedly chuckled a bit. When pressed where ‘they hid’ Jesus, Mary replies: “He is right here.” Next, he finds and interviews an overly joyous Bartholomew — but again fails to receive satisfactory answers to his quest.

Sensing that time is running out, Clavius and his men begin a thorough combing of the streets and buildings of Jerusalem to locate the remaining disciples for questioning. Then the game changer, Clavius finally finds the disciples, but with them is the very much still living Jesus. Now face to face with the impossible, he must now ponder: How can a man he clearly knew to be dead, and buried behind a sealed tomb, now be very much alive? His world now turned completely upside down, Clavius begins to follow the disciples – and helps them flee the city. He must now decide if Jesus is indeed the Son of God, and the Messiah (Savior).

In conclusion, Risen, with its unorthodox approach, is a more interesting movie to watch than the typical biblical film. However, unlike some other recent Hollywood films that tried to take an unorthodox approach to the biblical epic genre (i.e. Noah) and failed. Risen succeeds, mainly because the film makers remained true to the spirt of the text, and did not disrespect the beliefs of those most inclined to see a biblical film (believers) to begin with. All that said, this is a well-made film with fine acting, and for whatever it is worth, I recommend it.

On a similar note, I am eagerly awaiting the “Young Messiah” due out next month. This film is based on Anne Rice’s novel “Christ the Lord: Out of Egypt” and is directed by Cyrus Nowrasteh. The film, like the book, is to explore the incarnation and what Jesus’ childhood might have been like — growing up both fully human and fully divine.

That is it for this post. God Bless!

JDN

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