Numerous movies have portrayed the story of Jesus over the decades, ranging from the family-friendly “The Greatest Story Ever Told” on through the horrifically detailed and strictly for adults depiction found in Mel Gibson’s “The Passion of the Christ.” Yet somehow, the new movie “Risen” has found a uniquely compelling and fully relatable way to share the Gospel with present-day viewers by showing it through the eyes of a Roman tribune who undergoes the spiritual transformation from non-believer believer.
The movie follows the Roman tribune Clavius (Joseph Fiennes), a man whose job is to oversee the crucifixions of men deemed enemies of the Roman Empire. Reporting directly to the infamous Pontius Pilate, he receives orders to make especially certain that Jesus – seen as an instigator of massive anti-Empire sentiment among citizens – is unequivocally killed and hidden away so that his disciples can’t steal His corpse and claim that He came back from the dead as promised. Pilate’s fear is that if Jesus’ followers learn He is gone and believe He resurrected, then their rebellion will become impossible to manage.
When Jesus’ body indeed disappears from His tomb on the third day and Pilate and Jewish leaders who despised Jesus for drawing followers away team up to order Clavius to find Mary Magdalene and demand answers on who stole Jesus’ corpse and where they have hidden it. But just as he’s ready to confront her, Clavius is stunned to find nothing is as he expected. All the while, Roman centurions are also on the trail of both himself and Jesus, as Pilate assumes that Clavius has abandoned his mission. The result is a unique tale of historical fiction, as Clavius is not a Biblical figure yet is the kind of man who very likely existed quite commonly as word of Jesus’ resurrection spread throughout His 40 remaining days on earth before the Ascension, and beyond. What’s refreshing about “Risen” is that, unlike many Christian-themed films forced to contend with low budgets, it is an extremely well-made film with rich cinematography, solid direction and great production design that appears to have solid backing behind it.
Fiennes’ performance in the lead role is quite powerful, as he plays a man who is haunted by having to supervise horrific deaths on a daily basis and has come to hate every aspect of his job. As he transforms through his journey, the story becomes extremely touching and inspirational.
What’s most remarkable about “Risen,” however, is its first half hour, in which we see Clavius’ life under Pilate and thus experience the horror of crucifixion and Christ’s suffering in a new way, through the eyes of an oppressor who feels genuine guilt for harming Him. Unlike Gibson’s brutal, almost unbearable take on the Passion, co-writer/director Kevin Reynolds (“Waterworld”) manages to convey the horror on a primal level through implication and the reactions of those who both wailed in despair at Christ’s suffering and death, and even more so, through those who mocked Him at His apparent final moments of life.
To say more would rob viewers of the impact this movie has, especially at this season of Lent. While the movie has occasional slow patches, it is well worth seeing overall and worthy of monetary endorsement for Hollywood – and in particular, Sony Pictures, which has made the best of the big Christian films in the past few years – to keep producing more.
Is it Dateworthy? Well, it’s not fun, or romantic, but it’s an excellent faithfilled talking point kind of movie that will get you discussing the more important things in this season of thought and faith.