If “The Passion of the Christ” is the essential movie to watch on “Good Friday”, then the 2016 movie “Risen” is the proper one to watch on Easter Sunday, or at least shortly after Easter. I’ve been around the block with Biblical movies for years, some more inspiring then others, and after the 2014 movie Noah staring Russell Crowe, I was afraid they’d all be turned into big summer blockbusters with no real substance. Way back in the 1950’s and 60’s there were several great biblical epics ranging from “Ben-Hur” to “The Ten Commandments”, all massive pictures, but with just enough faithfully inspiring material in the center. The 2016 movie “Risen” finds just the right tone and balance, between being insightful, and just being an engaging film for a general audience.
This movie takes place after the resurrection of Jesus Christ, and concludes 40 days later at the dawn of his ascension back into Heaven. It all takes place from the perspective of a Roman soldier named Clavius, who was present during Christ’s crucifixion. After his apparent resurrection he’s ordered by Pontius Pilate to find his body and discover the truth. The first half of the movie plays like an episode of CSI, just set in Biblical times, as this Roman hunts down leads, interrogates witnesses and looks for clues regarding the disappearance of Christ’s body. Then things really change in the middle-half when he in fact meets Jesus himself ... and very alive. Afterward he joins Christ’s disciples on a spiritual journey, and the strength of their faith is tested as their asked what they believe in.
It’s a great story that’s always disserved more attention, and this film for the most part was done very well. While there have been countless movies revolving around the life and death of Jesus Christ, this film at least took a different spin on it, and benefits from a much lighter tone. More than anything, I’m so glad this movie found the right balance. It addresses themes of faith and beliefs, but it’s not overly preachy, and it never once came off as patronizing. After seeing the trailer, I was worried that this would be an overblown special effects spectacle, but it thankfully wasn’t. The production value is high, but it’s not over the top. Even when something “magical” or “heavenly” happens, it’s all very subdued, but you still feel the impact. The cast all gave very respectable performances, but the star who stole the show was Joseph Fiennes in the role of the roman soldier Clavius. Boy did he ever hit it out of the park in this role. He had presence, I believed everything he said, and I loved watching his character go on a journey from investigator to someone trying to find a new direction in life. The scene in which he meets Jesus Christ for the first time after the resurrection was a truly Oscar worthy moment, beautifully shot, and wonderfully acted. I’m serious, that scene alone might just be one of the best individual moments I’ve experienced in a movie in years. One thing I found slightly distracting was this other Roman Solder played by Tom Felton, the same talent who played Draco Malfoy if the Harry Potter films. He gave a decent performance, but what I found hilarious was that the characters name just happened to be Lucius. Interesting, wasn’t Lucius the name of Malfoy’s father back in the Harry Potter films ... maybe this is some kind of prequel film in disguise.
If I did have any issues with the film, it would be that the first half-hour of the film drags for a while, and has some select moments that felt out of place, but the movie still knew how to find equal footing afterward. I felt that it ran just long enough without over staying it’s welcome, and in the end, it was just a very nice experience. It was great to see a film portrayal of both Christ’s resurrection and ascension from the point of view of an outsider who needed to find his faith. Not much else to say, it was just an all around good movie, and I strongly recommend it.
I give “Risen” 3 ½ stars out of 5.