Clavius (Joseph Fiennes), is a Roman Tribune who is also incredibly trusted by Pontius Pilate (Peter Firth). In fact, so much so that Clavius is tasked with doing almost every dirty job that Pontius has available to him and doesn’t feel like getting off of his rear-end to do. One task Clavius has just been recently assigned is to find the remains of a recently persecuted man who, for one reason or another, was put into a tomb, and the next day or so, wasn’t in there anymore. There’s no doubting he was dead; he was crucified, stabbed, and tortured to death, obviously. However, there’s no remains and that leads Clavius to questioning anyone and everyone he can find. Most are willing to give him useful information for a price, whereas others don’t really know anything or are just too scared. But the people that Clavius is able to get some bit of info out of, are the men who declare themselves “Disciples” and claim to have the answer to all of life’s questions, not just Clavius’. This leads Clavius down a road of not figuring out what he fully believes in, or what he wants to do with the rest of his life.
Oh yeah, and the guy that Clavius has to go looking for is, most obviously, Jesus Christ himself, as played by Cliff Curtis.
Faith-based movies, honestly, aren’t all that good. There’s the obvious, overly preachy ones like Heaven is for Real, or God’s Not Dead (1 & 2), there’s the low-budget, made-for-TV-yet-somehow-got-a-wide-release ones like Moms’ Night Out and Fireproof, and then, of course, there’s the big-budget, nearly star-studded extravaganzas like Exodus: Gods and King, or Passion of the Christ. Some of them, yes, are better than others, but for the most part, they’re all heavy-handed by trying to get a message across in not-so subtle ways, or just way too dull for their own good that, even if they didn’t try and force a message down our throat, it doesn’t matter because the movies themselves are so horrid, that it’s kind of easy to fault them for doing nothing more than giving us a sermon. It doesn’t matter what religion you are apart of, or what your beliefs are, but these movies, I’m sorry, are just not very good.
And that’s why a movie like Risen, as silly as it can be and get, still does a lot better than most of those movies combined.
Which is definitely incredibly surprising because, from a first glance, it looks awful. If anything, it seems like the kind of low-budget, faith-based movie that you’d, yes, see on TV elsewhere, especially when the biggest name of the cast is Ralph Fiennes’ brother. And then, yes, there’s director and co-writer Kevin Reynolds, who hasn’t made a very good movie in quite some time (or ever, depending on who you talk to), so you already get the idea that something is awfully awry here. But that’s the interesting aspect surrounding Risen – it’s not awful.
Sure, it’s definitely stupid and, more often than not, makes a few bad decisions in favor of making a smart one, but it tells an interesting story that, quite frankly, I’ve never heard or seen before, and even better, doesn’t jam the whole idea of God, Jesus, or Christianity down your throat, either. Reynolds takes what is essentially a detective story, sets it in A.D., gives us the eyes and ears of a non-believer, and turns it into something enjoyable that you can take anyone to.
Okay, maybe not everyone, but a good portion of the people you may know.
Reynolds understands that everyone’s seen something like Risen before and honestly, he doesn’t try to hide that fact, either; we all know the story by now, so treat us like adults, please. He does and that’s why the story continues on in a fashion that may not always work, but seems to actually surprise us along the way, even if, yeah, we know how it all ends. In fact, there’s a middle portion of Risen that drags so unbelievably, that it really took me out of the movie. Due to the plot already being concerned with Clavius finding Christ’s remains (which we all know he won’t actually do), the movie shoots itself in the foot by not figuring out what to do next, after all is revealed to him?
Break down and tell a sermon? Add a character plot-twist? Throw in a murder for good measure? I don’t know where Reynolds saw the story going after the eventual reveal, but it really slows the movie down to a complete halt and makes it feel like the movie’s just treading water, as if it figures out where to go next and why. I’m willing to believe and accept the fact that Reynolds himself had a smart idea mapped-out for maybe two-thirds of the movie and just winged the rest, but it doesn’t sit well with me because, well, it seems lazy and it could have been so much more.
But at its heart, Risen is a smarter faith-based movie because it isn’t trying to convert anyone, nor is it trying to offend its core audience, either. Whenever Jesus does come in to play here, it’s only to tell the people around him to, for lack of better words, “stop being greedy a**holes”. Not at all surprising that Jesus would say this, but at the same time, that’s fine – the movie isn’t trying to make it some ground-breaking statement, nor is it trying to tell us that’s what Christianity is all about. Reynolds doesn’t want to preach and for that, I’m very appreciative.
I just wish the rest of the movie showed some improvement, however.
Consensus: Risen benefits from being better than most of the faith-based pieces of junk that come out every so often, however, also lacks any plot to really get drawn or connected to.
5.5 / 10