True Confession 1: I didn’t want to see this movie all that much, but epics like this are catnip for the hubs, so I took it because I knew at least one of us would enjoy it.
True Confession 2: The movie within the movie in Hail, Caesar! was both called “Hail, Caesar!” and was all about a Roman Centaurion discovering and becoming a follower of Christ. Which is exactly the plot of Risen. Only… Hail, Caesar! is a comedy. Risen definitely is not.
Risen is a reworking of the story of the Resurrection as seen through the eyes of a Roman Tribune, Clavius (Joseph Fiennes). It’s done well and reverently without being treacly. But it’s definitely a re-imagining of Biblical stories.
On the very plus side, Yeshua (Cliff Curtis) actually looks like a Middle Eastern Jew, as do most of the Apostles and others who were playing Jews, which was refreshing. On the not plus side, the movie goes for the time-honored The Brave/Noble/Redeemed White Man Saves The Natives take. In this case, the Jews/Apostles are the natives. Per Risen, the only reason the Apostles survived to share the news of Jesus’ resurrection is because the Tribune (they use his title far more than his name in this movie) rescues them and leads them to Galilee and ensures they escape the Roman platoon pursuing them.
Why are the Apostles being pursued? Because Pontius Pilate (Peter Firth) doesn’t want there to be unrest when the Caesar arrives, and the possibility that Yeshua has actually resurrected means there is unrest. However, we never see any of this unrest Pilate’s worried about, so it’s hard to understand what Pilate’s worked up about. The unrest that we do see is created by the Tribune and his aide digging up what seems like every grave in the area in order to try to find Yeshua’s dead body.
Tom Felton, who plays the aide, Lucius (yes, swear to God – irreverence here totally intended – they named the character the kid who played Draco Malfoy is playing in this movie ‘Lucius’, as in, the same name his fictional father in the Harry Potter series has – and proving that the Harry Potter books are possibly as well read as the Bible, the entire audience tittered at this), must have the greatest agent in the world, because he somehow has second billing in this movie, while having what can only be described as a supporting role and not much to do with it. Pilate has more screen time, but he only gets third billing. But I digress.
The movie works hard to be Biblically accurate – if such is even possible. But a creative choice at the beginning of the movie threw me, and others (because I heard them discussing it), which made me feel that the rest was probably not correct. It appears to be as correct as the filmmakers could manage, but setting up something that felt as “false” right at the start isn’t the wisest choice, even though it’s all done for dramatic effect.
However, that’s what people go to movies like this for – the dramatic reinterpretation of an event that quite literally changed the world. Whether that change was good, bad, or indifferent isn’t the point of this review. Frankly, it’s not even the point of the movie.
There’s a lot of illogic in this movie as well as characters being inconsistent – Pilate and Lucius in particular. Characters are not well named, in that you won’t leave the theater knowing who was who for at least half of the cast. While all the actors do a good job, this film is very muted. There’s not a lot of raised voices and not even a lot of arguing. This is a serious movie about a serious subject and the filmmakers have ensured that you’ll know it. Stephen Hagan as Bartholomew stands out in that he’s one of the only characters who smiles – and he smiles like he means it – and he’s also the only one who seems to have the joy of Christ’s teachings within him. Hagan sells the resurrection far better and in a shorter amount of screen time than Fiennes. In my opinion, he deserved higher billing. Perhaps he needs Felton’s agent. But again, I digress.
We do see some battle scenes that are a little intense, and we also see the ending of the Crucifixion, as well as rotting corpses, though none of this is done for shock value or to show gratuitous violence, so take that into consideration if you’re planning to bring your children to this movie.
I went in expecting to spend most of the time comparing this to Hail, Caesar! and trying not to laugh. But, while I did have a couple of Hail, Caesar! moments, overall the movie was well made and entertaining. The hubs liked it and I was pleasantly surprised to find it enjoyable. It’s not necessarily going to change the world and I doubt it’s going to convert anyone to anything, but while the reviewers section of the theater was relatively empty, the rest of the theater was packed to the gills and the audience seemed to like the movie.
If Biblical anything is your cuppa, then you should really enjoy Risen.
Rating: 3.5 Stars
Roman military tribune Clavius (Joseph Fiennes) remains set in his ways after serving 25 years in the army. He arrives at a crossroad when he’s tasked to investigate the mystery of what happened to Jesus (Cliff Curtis) following the Crucifixion. Accompanied by trusted aide Lucius (Tom Felton), his quest to disprove rumors of a risen Messiah makes him question his own beliefs and spirituality. As his journey takes him to places never dreamed of, Clavius discovers the truth that he’s been seeking.
Cast: Joseph Fiennes, Tom Felton, Cliff Curtis, Peter Firth, Maria Botto
Directed by: Kevin Reynolds
Written by: Kevin Reynolds and Paul Aiello