Reviewed by GREG KING
Director: Kevin Reynolds
Stars: Joseph Fiennes, Tom Felton, Peter Firth, Cliff Curtis, Maria Botto, Stewart Scudmore, Antonio Gil.
In the 50s and 60s Hollywood embraced the Biblical epic with some spectacular productions, including The Ten Commandments, which is arguably the best of the genre. More recently we’ve had the overblown and risible Biblical epics like Noah and Exodus: Gods And Kings, which took a more fanciful view to some key stories from the Bible. And after the success of The War Room last year, Hollywood has embraced faith based and religious themed films, with studios even establishing their own inhouse faith based production houses. Risen comes from Affirm Films, the faith based division of Sony Pictures.
With his first film in a decade Kevin Reynolds (best known for his collaborations with Kevin Costner on Robin Hood: Prince Of Thieves and the overblown and bloated futuristic fantasy Waterworld, etc) attempts to emulate those epics of yesteryear with Risen. He attempts to give a blockbuster feel to the material, but he is not entirely successful. His treatment is ponderous, and his direction tends towards the lacklustre. Visually the film is a bit bland as well, and has the look and feel of a telemovie.
Risen is the first script from writer Paul Aiello, and it serves as an unofficial sequel to Mel Gibson’s brutal and controversial 2004 film The Passion Of The Christ. That film depicted the last twelve hours in the life of Jesus Christ; Risen depicts the next forty days.
Set in AD 33, this grim, slow paced and laboured period piece views the resurrection from the perspective of Clavius (played in stoic fashion by Joseph Fiennes), a Roman soldier and military leader who has risen through the ranks due to his exploits on the battlefield. Clavius is charged by Pontius Pilate (Peter Firth, from Equus, etc) to oversee the crucifixion of Jesus in an attempt to appease the manipulative Caiaphas and the prefects who were the rulers of Judea. Pilate is keen to ensure that Jesus does not become a martyr. Clavius is ordered to seal the body away.
But when the tomb is opened three days later and discovered empty, he is ordered to track down Jesus’ disciples to uncover the whereabouts of the body. Clavius is assisted in the search by his young, naive right hand man Lucius (Tom Felton, from the Harry Potter series). Clavius is essentially a non believer, but over the course of the next forty days he undergoes a transformation and a spiritual awakening when he witnesses Jesus perform a number of miracles.
Aiello takes a number of liberties with the mythology of the familiar story of the crucifixion and the resurrection for dramatic purposes – for example, here Barrabas, the thief who was set free is killed in battle, while the miracle of the fishes is performed sometime after his resurrection. Reynolds gives the setting a somewhat gritty look and feel, capturing the harsh environment effectively. Chris Cornwell’s superb production design creates a nice contrast between the lavish Roman buildings and the dusty streets and more simple housing and rudimentary construction of Jerusalem.
Fiennes’ performance is a little bland and stiff. New Zealand actor Cliff Curtis (from Reynolds’ earlier Rapa Nui, etc) brings a sense of gravitas and dignity to his performance as Jesus, who here is referred to by his Hebrew name of Yeshua. Maria Botto plays Mary Magdalene as a frank, straight talking former prostitute, while of the disciples only Stewart Scudmore leaves any impression as the apostle Peter.
We’ve seen numerous films depicting the story of the crucifixion and the resurrection, from Cecil B De Mille’s The King Of Kings through to John Huston’s star studded The Greatest Story Ever Told, Martin Scorsese’s controversial The Last Temptation Of Christ, even an animated variation with Prince Of Egypt, and even big budget television miniseries like Jesus Of Nazareth. And we’ve even had a more comic take on the mythology with Monty Python’s irreverent but hugely entertaining Life Of Brian. This modern interpretation may well find an audience amongst the more devout and religious, especially in the Bible Belt of America, while more secular audiences will be less willing to embrace it.
But given its story and themes, it is a little strange that Risen is being released now rather than at Easter time, when it would have had much more relevance and impact.