“Christian” films for the most part are heavy handed, watered-down, unrealistic and overall bad movies. There are few exceptions in my mind, one being Fireproof, which I thought was a good story with some good acting brought down in the last remaining minutes to a preachy unconvincing end. The other, Mel Gibson’s The Passion of the Christ, was an incredible film all around, from cinematography and direction, to acting and storytelling. I have since stopped watching the “Christian” made films, not only for their quality, but because there are better films out there, made by Christians that are main stream and show deeper Christian themes and characterizations (Fury, Deliver Us From Evil, etc.). Earlier this year there seemed to be the potential for yet another one of those types of films in the form of Risen. While I didn’t get to see it in its theatrical run, I recently saw it at home with my lovely bride and had some things to say about it. So here we go.
A Roman tribute named Clavius (Joseph Fiennes), coming from a recent halting of a Zealot revolution has been called back to the city by Pontius Pilate (Peter Firth). Pilate sends Clavius to make sure a man that is being crucified, is properly guarded once dead because of rumors of his disciples saying he will rise again and fears that if they steal his body there may be further unrest. After the body is found missing just days after being buried, Clavius is now tasked with finding the body by following any clues he may find, as well as tracking down his followers and questioning them. During his investigation he is met with hard questions about himself and who this man was and just how important he may have been.
Risen has all the aspects for a great film, top notch acting, interesting story, emotional connection to characters and some great direction and cinematography. It may fall a bit short for reasons I will discuss, but it is definitely worth your time. With the exception maybe of some of the disciple characters, each actor cast is up to the task and treats the story with importance and it shows through their performances. Ralph Fiennes has always been a favorite actor of mine, really ever since his great term as Martin Luther in Luther. Tom Felton isn’t really given much to do, but what he does adds to the story. Peter Firth as Pilate is great and it’s good to see a change in actor for who plays Jesus in Cliff Curtis The actors who play the disciples aren’t always on point, Joe Manjon as Bartholomew has a touching scene but his portrayal of the overly happy disciple didn’t seem to fit in this film. Stewart Scudamore as Peter holds back more than Manjon, has some good scenes (one especially where he admits he doesn’t know all the answers) but also came off oddly for the tone of the film.
The story is an interesting one, not normally seen in mainstream Hollywood and it does well in showing a man coming to faith in Christ. Now, it isn’t what we see in the “Christian” films which is usually hitting you over the head with a watered down Gospel and then the “sinner” coming to believe, here we see a man who witnesses and experiences the very presence of Christ. It is quit powerful in its portrayal. As for the other characterizations, like those of the disciples is a mixed bag. One moment they are muttering “its Him, its Him” in some sort of angelic trance and then they are portrayed in a realistic normal way of a group of men, not sure what they are supposed to do, but sure that they know the Truth and gladly embrace it. There is one great shot of them huddled together in a moment of weakness and it gives the viewer the sense of just how fragile these men were and that soon that frailness will turn into great strength for the spreading of the Gospel. Pilates character comes off believable as well, an arrogant man who really only cares about himself.
I’m not sure if I am the minority here, but after Passion of the Christ I started to feel really convicted that the second commandment meant books and movies too. Which is odd because initially when I heard that I would scoff at it. So it was uncomfortable for me to see the depiction of Christ in the film, but I wanted to talk about it nonetheless. Cliff Curtis does a good job of showing compassion, love, gentleness, integrity and strength in his portrayal. I even think this may be the first time I’ve ever seen Jesus not played by a white guy. His scenes aren’t many, but for the most part, each one is well done and respectful.
Risen is a very interesting concept that for the most part works. The story is intriguing enough and its main character develops naturally and believably that this is the type of “Christian” movie that should be supported.
3 stars out of 4