(M) Starring Joseph Fiennes, Peter Firth, Tom Felton

The death, burial and resurrection of Jesus Christ has been the subject matter of a multitude of films throughout cinema history. These events are rich in intrigue, controversy and lie at the heart of the largest world religion. It might be said that all has been said about this story. Yet, as the Easter season approaches, studios are still striving to capitalise on the biggest turning point in history; Sony provides the latest outing into the Messianic adventure, Risen.

Veteran director Kevin Reynolds (Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves) delivers a fresh spin on this exceptionally well known tale. It is told from the view of a fictional Roman officer charged with ensuring that Jesus’ body remains dead and buried. Clavius (Joseph Fiennes) oversees the sealing of Jesus’ tomb and installs the men who must guard it against vandals and the followers of the Christ.

As Clavius performs these duties, Pontius Pilate (Peter Firth) wants to keep political order and the Jewish leadership wants to keep Jesus’ disorderly sect from growing. That seems like it won’t be much of a problem because the disciples of the ‘King of the Jews’ have gone into hiding. But news comes that the tomb has been emptied and there are rumours that Jesus has been seen walking among people in the area. Clavius turns from guard to investigator and must find the body of the so-called prophet before disorder erupts in Jerusalem and throughout the countryside.

In the process of enquiry, he and his regiment leave no stone unturned in searching for the mysterious body. The Roman centurion’s investigation leads him to being introduced to the strangely non-rebellious lot that call themselves followers of the man on the cross.  Clavius begins to question his own beliefs and consider whether this one man and his followers could be telling the truth. Could this be the beginning of the end of the Roman Empire?

Now Showing: Risen from The Big Picture on Vimeo.

Based on first impressions, Risen could be easily categorised as another faith-based film, but that would be an unfortunate interpretation. The acting and direction lift it above the normal misgivings associated with this category of movies. The real point of difference, though, in this Christ-centred outing is the script. What’s most effective is it creates a central character who is credible, and inserts him into true events which we witness from his viewpoint. Fans of history should be pleased with how the original story of these significant events are treated. Audiences can be entertained with the notion of this Roman centurion travelling though the historical narrative, asking questions that many still ask today. Did Jesus really rise? How should people respond?

Joseph Fiennes’ (Luther, Shakespeare in Love) brings the necessary skepticism and believability to the enquiring Clavius. Fiennes carries this film well on his shoulders and provides a credibility to the production. His final conclusions are predictable, but the lengths that he goes to for the sake of finding the answers does excuse some of the plot holes.

For the pessimistic Christian followers of film adaptations, those who hunt down any inaccuracies of the biblical components should be pleased with how Reynolds handles this portion. He does not sacrifice the classical components of this biographical narrative. The cinematic components that have been added make the story believable and allow for a broader look at what was happening around the events of the crucifixion. Interestingly, the finale does move toward the cliched, because of the familiarity of this aspect of the life and death of Jesus — but this does not minimise its impact.

Risen is not perfect but it shows that such Christian-themed adventures can be of high quality without sacrificing the original message. Risen is entertaining, engaging and effectively delivers the message of hope that comes during this time of year. 

There is hope for faith-based film making. The quality of producing these films is beginning to match the value of the message itself. This is a wonderful film for anyone who needs help with understanding the heart of the Christian faith this season. It also might challenge skeptics to look at the evidence and see what conclusions they come to.

What are some of the bigger questions to consider from this film?

  1. Did Jesus really rise from the dead? (1 Corinthians 15:20–22)
  2. What does the Bible say about salvation? (Romans 10:9, Titus 3:5)
  3. Can Jesus change things in life? (Jeremiah 31:3, John 3:16-17)

Russell Matthews works for City Bible Forum Sydney and is a film blogger

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