Risen (dir. Kevin Reynolds)

Posted: March 23, 2016 in Uncategorized

(**NOTE: My apologies for the long period of time between reviews. Aside from having gone to Disney two weeks ago, I am working an average of 25 hours a week and taking 5 classes in school, while still trying to find time to see as many movies as possible. Still, got this one up before Easter.)


“Risen” is not a normal Christian movie. It was financed by a major studio, has an actual Hollywood director behind the camera in Kevin Reynolds (“Waterworld”, “One Eight Seven”, etc.), and has actual well known actors in it who are not known as either washed up B movie actors or super-Christian in real life (Joseph Fiennes, Tom Felton, Cliff Curtis, etc.)  With the financial success of Christian films like “War Room” and “God’s Not Dead”, you can sense mainstream Hollywood wanted to make their own Christian films to squeeze money out of an audience that cares less about quality than they do about having their beliefs pandered to in the most explicit way possible. So what happens when actual filmmakers try to pander to Christian audiences but still, because they are not super-Christian themselves, want to attempt to make a film that works outside of its preachiness?  Well, you end up with “Risen”, which is a weird piece of fiction that feels like a piece of Christian fan fiction got spliced with an episode of “Law & Order”. “Law & Order: Jesus Inspection Unit”, if you will.


“Risen” creates a non-Biblical, non-historical account of a Roman tribune (Joseph Fiennes, miles away from softcore porn like “Killing Me Softly”) tasked with investigating the disappearance of Jesus’s body from the tomb. Christians, in addition to believing Jesus is an actual, historical figure, also believe he rose from the dead 3 days after being executed: the Resurrection. Lesser known to non-Christians, there was then a period called the Ascension, where Jesus spends about 40 days between his resurrection and his actual trip to Heaven on Earth as a sort of ghost figure who hangs out with his apostles and appears to other various people.  “Risen” shows us this Biblical story through the eyes of our fictional tribune, Clavius. Clavius views the followers of Jesus with contempt, seeing them as stupid or crazy cultists. The Jewish Pharisees, who urge Pontius Pilate (Peter Firth) and the Roman authorities to quell the Jesus cult, are portrayed as corrupt local political officials, thus continuing the perhaps unintentional anti-Semitism of most Christian films depicting the crucifixion. Oddly enough, Jesus’s followers, the apostles, are portrayed as wide-eyed, brainwashed goons, and objects of ridicule not just for Clavius, but also by proxy for the audience. Seriously, the apostles come off as aloof, naïve, and insane.  Mary Magdalene (Maria Botto), well, at one point Clavius asks the roman soldiers if they know of a prostitute by her name, and every soldier raises his hand. A weird bit of comic relief about…how much Mary Magdalene is a popular whore?


If I didn’t know better, I’d say “Risen” is a film that has subtle contempt for its Christian audience.  Oh sure, the boring third act of the film completely caters to them by giving the basic pious arguments for faith that we’re used to, but the rest of the film is basically Clavius asking very logical questions of Jesus’s followers and believers, and behaving much like atheists who criticize the entire concept of Jesus as a deity do now. The film goes out of its way to have Clavius constantly point out the absurdity of various witnesses stories and recollections. Even then, the only reason Clavius is ever drawn over to the other side of the argument is when Jesus literally appears before him and is able to have conversations with the guy. Jesus, by the way, is played by Cliff Curtis, who at least LOOKS like he comes from Judea. I’m so used to ridiculous portrayals of a Caucasian Jesus that having an actor who actually has an olive complexion gets some points in my column. Sure, it’s easy to believe something when living (sort of) evidence appears right in front of you. The film kind of stacks the deck that way. Jesus’s resurrection isn’t proven through normal empirical, investigative methods. My guess is if Jesus single-handled appeared before every non-Christian and had a talk with them and demonstrated supernatural powers, there would be a lot more Christians. Shame he won’t do that for anyone except Clavius and people who already believe in him.


So the film is mostly a police procedural. Clavius deals with Pilate and some background politics. He’s saddled with an inexperienced partner (Felton, better known as Draco Malfoy from “Harry Potter”), and he goes about investigating crime scenes, collecting evidence, interviewing witnesses, and basic law enforcement stuff. There’s some discussion of Roman gods, but for all intents and purposes Clavius is a stand-in for a skeptical atheist who is turned into a believer. The film giving Clavius what no actual atheist is ever given, definitive proof, is besides the point, I guess.  We also get a small, low budget action scene at the beginning of the film that is of the sword-and-sandal variety, and has some PG-13 violence to spice things up a bit before the rest of the film becomes very dialogue heavy.


Honestly, this is one of the least bad Christian movies I have seen.  That’s not to say it’s good. That last act is mind-numbingly boring, and while the film has some impressive sets, it uses them repeatedly to milk the most out of the film’s obviously low budget. Most of the acting is satisfactory, even if Fiennes mostly broods his way through each scene. Also, while the film ultimately ends up as preachy as any other Christian film, the movie does have a weird undercurrent of subtly criticizing Christians, as if the filmmakers have contempt for the inevitable audience for this film and have hidden clues to that in plain sight for ironic nonbeliever audience members like myself to pick up on.


Also, I genuinely like the concept behind this film, even if the execution falls short. A man believed by some to be a god is executed. He disappears. Since dead people don’t come back to life, and the political situation in the area is a ticking time bomb, an investigation would need to go forward. Grafting a cop drama onto a Bible story is, as far as I know, a pretty novel concept. I give the filmmakers points for that originality.


“Risen” isn’t as laughably bad as most Christian films are, and the production values, on a nuts and bolts level, are higher than most Christian films, though still much lower than an average, non-Christian period film. I enjoyed some of the film on its intended level, and found it interesting and amusing at portions. The last act is still pretty awful, and the film isn’t exactly captivating, so I wouldn’t call it a good movie, but it’s an interesting mediocre. C-


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