Risen - Movie Review by Monte Yazzie


Director: Kevin Reynolds

Starring: Joseph Fiennes, Tom Felton, Peter Firth, and Cliff Curtis


In my college religion class the instructor once showed representations of biblical stories and characters in mainstream media, after a slew of images from film and television productions the instructor turned the television off and declared, “They will never get it right”.  Biblical stories have seen few successes and many failures. Movies like the epic “The Ten Commandments” and the standout “The Passion of the Christ” find much of their influence and direction from the bible, staying fairly accurate to the biblical presentation along the way. Still, it’s a very difficult sort of film to make; one that walks the fine line of portraying religious truth or taking advantage of the freedom of dramatic interpretation. “Risen” tries to live in both worlds, offering a story of Jesus that starts moments after he was crucified and adding an outlook from a character not represented in the bible. Unfortunately this proves a constant hindrance to the structure of the narrative even when it garners some good moments; this makes “Risen” only a commendable attempt of mixing source material with original ideas.


Yeshua (Cliff Curtis), the Hebrew name of Jesus, has been crucified, his body still hanging upon the cross. Pilate (Peter Firth), who ordered the crucifixion, is struggling with the possible political ramifications of killing a man many claimed to be the Messiah. Pilate calls upon his tribune Clavius (Joseph Fiennes) to expedite the process and make sure Yeshua, who proclaimed he would rise from death after three days, is actually dead.


From this starting point the film shifts gears into a sort of biblical crime procedural as the body of Yeshua vanishes from the tomb, which was sealed personally by Clavius. It’s an interesting change of pace, introducing a new angle with a new character to accommodate the story found in the bible. The script, written by Paul Aiello and Kevin Reynolds, builds nicely during this portion even though it never strays too far away from the source material. Those familiar with the bible story know exactly what is to come, but seeing it from the perspective of a character not in the literature offers a dramatic touch that works quite well in certain scenes within the film, unfortunately this doesn’t consistently happen.


Clavius is a non-believer, a soldier who trusts in what he can see and easily comprehend. Adding this character to the structure of the story provides a contrast of faith versus disbelief, especially when it comes to believing the direction of a man who Clavius witnessed dying. But this only works initially because of the clunky arrangement of the script and the poor dialog that evokes unwanted laughter in moments when the story is aiming for enlightenment. Joseph Fiennes may seem like a good choice as Clavius but he never completely fit the emotional composition of the character, the over stoic soldier type that Mr. Fiennes portrays never seems to connect the sentiment that he is truly affected by the divine experience.


“Risen” tells the recognizable biblical story through the eyes of a new perspective, implementing a clever narrative design that regrettably never completely hides the many lingering deficiencies within the script. While the film should find approval from the faith-based community it may not have the intervening effect, a clear aim of the film, which it does for the Roman solider Clavius.


Monte’s Rating

2.75 out of 5.00