I don’t remember having done a film review previously on this site. That said, I do find “Jesus Flicks” an interesting genre, and I generally have a mixed reaction to them, both as a Christian, and as one who enjoys cinema. So here is my attempt as a reviewer.
The 2016 movie, Risen, is one of these mixed reaction pieces. First of all, this is a film of two halves. In the first section, which is very engaging it is a “Cop Drama.” Set in Judea at the close of Jesus’ ministry, a Roman Tribune, Clavius (Joseph Fiennes) returns from dealing with an insurgency to be immediately tasked by Pontius Pilate to go finish dealing with the crucifixion of Yeshua. All done and dusted, Clavius’ rest is again disrupted by an urgent need to pacify the religious hierarchy, by sealing the grave of this Yeshua.
As we need no spoiler alert, the tomb is found to be empty and the tribune begins an investigation to locate the missing corpse. A great deal of standard police work follows, with interviews with witnesses (including Joseph of Arimathea, Mary Magdalene, and Bartholomew). Snitches are hired, and stake outs set up. All to no avail. UNTIL . . .
We enter into the film’s second theme – spiritual awakening. Fiennes follows Magdalene to an upper room where he encounters the same man he had crucified, and had sealed into a tomb. Much of what follows stays on the periphery of the biblical account, with the Roman shadowing the disciples to the shores of Sea of Galilee. All the references are clear to the biblically literate, up to and including the ascension.
While I found the police plot engaging and Fiennes character believable, there are many “religious” points which I find worthy of comment. The Romans are portrayed not as some post-modern atheistic robots, or as sadistic bullies, but as religious men true to their own beliefs and culture. Clavius is shown to be a devotee of Mars, and Pilate of Minerva.
There are some assumptions made on the Christianity front, however, that may well irritate some. Mary Magdalene is shown as a prostitute. While this does have roots in Christian tradition, it is not a clearly stated fact in scripture. Even as tradition it is problematic though, as the film has her still plying her trade even as a disciple.
Catholic iconography also features, with the police investigation gathering evidence including the burial clothes, which bear the marks of the Shroud of Turin.
As far as cinematography goes, the ascension scene has very poor CGI, and fails to capture the biblical glory.
All in all it is an okay use of 100 or so minutes. It is respectful to Christianity, even if it runs into cliches; and the first half is a really clever twist on the jaded police drama.