Risen
Director: Kevin Reynolds
Stars: Joseph Fiennes, Tom Felton, Peter Firth
Duration: 107 mins
Class: 2
KRS Releasing Ltd

The biblical epic enjoyed its heyday during the 1950s when Hollywood churned out blockbusters hits à la The Robe (1953), The Ten Commandments (1956) and Ben-Hur (1959). It was a craze never quite repeated and, it was not until 2004 and Mel Gibson’s controversial The Passion of the Christ, that the bible provided the source for a major box office smash hit.

Recent efforts such as 2014’s Noah and Exodus: Gods and Kings were suitably epic in scope, but failed to ignite a notable revival of the genre, although it is alive and well, with smaller-scale faith-based movies (especially ones made for TV) doing solid business among its target audience.

Although boasting a couple of effectively epic scenes, this year’s contribution to the genre is more of an intimate tale. Risen tells the story of the resurrection of Jesus Christ and its aftermath as seen through the eyes of an agnostic Roman military tribune, Clavius (Joseph Fiennes). When the body of Yeshua (as Jesus Christ is referred to in the film) goes missing following his crucifixion, Pontius Pilate (Peter Firth) believes it has been stolen by Yeshua’s followers to fuel the predictions made that he will rise from the dead. Keen to avoid unrest within Jerusalem’s walls, Pilate appoints Clavius to find the body and bring the perpetrators to justice, but Clavius’ soon discovers more than he bargained for.

Although it offers nothing new or challenging in terms of its narrative, Risen offers some straightforward, uncontroversial, albeit fairly interesting family entertainment for the Easter season.

Director Kevin Reynolds stated that, when he came on board, he came up with the idea that it would be told as a detective story and he structured his screenplay (co-written with Paul Aiello) as such. And so Clavius sets to work interrogating witnesses – he was, of course, a witness Yeshua’s death himself, having overseen the crucifixion. And, although we all know the outcome of the story, it is an interesting take and things get infinitely more engaging when Clavius finally comes face-to-face with the risen Christ and his whole being is shaken to the core.

Malta features prominently, with many pivotal scenes shot on the island, including the crucifixion

Clavius is a good soldier and honest man, a hero on the battlefield and a man who takes his job seriously and follows orders, as he dreams of a peaceful retirement away from it all. Fiennes cuts a striking believable figure in his Roman armour, but it is in the second part of the film when he bursts into a home and finds some of the apostles huddled therein and comes face-to-face with the obvious risen Yeshua that the actor is at his most compelling.

There are no “A-ha!” dramatic conversion moments for Clavius... just a slow, quiet and inexorable realisation that he may, in fact, be witnessing the greatest miracle in all time. So he shuns all that he has known before and undertakes a voyage of inward discovery, a voyage Fiennes tackles with effective grace.

Cliff Curtis gives a very charismatic performance as Yeshua. His appearances are few, yet he crackles with magnetism when he is on screen. His dialogue is minimal, yet his expressions speak volumes and his presence lingers throughout.

Tom Felton is effective as Clavius’s young, too-eager-to-please aide and director Reynolds has assembled a solid ensemble representing a cross-section of citizens and apostles all unshaken in their conviction about what really happened, providing a microcosm of the society of the time with realism, honesty, and some gentle humour.

Those who may be sceptical about faith-based movies will find that the film eschews preachiness completely, just letting its story unfold with few theatrics. That Reynolds avoids overwrought scenes of a miraculous nature is to be commended.

There are some well-judged dramatic moments, and, as the story dictates, little miracles do occur, yet some do so almost unobtrusively (a boat quietly appearing on the Sea of Galilee when most needed) adding some weight to the film.

The film was filmed principally in Spain and Malta. Malta features prominently, with many pivotal scenes shot on the island, including the crucifixion, which is rather dramatically and brutally done. Good use is also made of some of the island’s catacombs... an appropriate background for a suitably atmospheric film.

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