“A Roman Centurion is charged by Pontius Pilate to track down the missing body of Christ before an uprising can be fomented”; the premise has the potential to interest the Christian faithful and non-believers alike. Unfortunately, with that somewhat promising concept in the hands of writer/director Kevin Reynolds, what the audience gets is a dull two hours of a pagan both finding Christ and “finding Christ”.
Opening with the kind of bloodless battle scene for which Reynolds honed his eye on his Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves (1991). Risen seems, at first, to be an attempt at recreating the biblical epics of Hollywood’s silver age. The problem is that $20 million doesn’t go as far as it used to (Cecille B. DeMille’s 1956 The Ten Commandments, cost $13 million, not adjusted for inflation). There is a noticeable lack of the wide shots of vast panoramas common to epic filmmaking, likely because pulling the camera back too much would reveal an anachronistic cell phone tower, or that, at most, 50 extras were hired. The skirmish has little-to-nothing to do with the remainder of the film, simply serving to establish the main character, Tribune Lucius (Joseph Fiennes) as a skilled soldier and is undoubtedly, meant for inclusion in trailers as to fool potential audiences into thinking Risen is has more of Gladiator in its DNA than Law & Order. Quickly, and necessarily, the film shifts into detective movie mode.
Risen also fails to become an engaging mystery movie, its second act playing like an episode of “CSI: Jerusalem”, with the Shroud of Turin as key piece of evidence. Early on it is suggested that the disappearance of Jesus’ (for historical verity’s sake he is referred to as “Yeshua”, just as Osama Bin Laden was called “Usama” in Zero Dark Thirty) body is a conspiracy perpetrated by the Christ’s followers, intended to inspire religious fervor. But this notion is (SPOILER ALERT) quickly dismissed in favor of telling a story of conversion.
Ultimately Risen is damned by being neither an interestingly-plotted mystery nor a spectacular failure. It’s not very good but it’s not bad in a fun way, and it could have been, given the premise. Those most interesting element of the film is the casting of the refreshingly dark-skinned Cliff Curtis as Yeshua. It all plays out as a PG-13 Sunday School lesson, peppered throughout with “Easter Eggs” (pun-intended) to reward viewers who have “read the book”. While an agnostic point-of-view would certainly have made the picture more interesting, it would just as certainly have made it more controversial and it is clear that Reynolds and his co-screenwriter Paul Aiello did not want to risk alienating the Christian filmgoers that will, undoubtedly, comprise the bulk of Risen’s audience. The result is a film with all the flavor and dimension of a communion wafer.
Director: Kevin Reynolds/Writer: Kevin Reynolds, Paul Aiello/ Starring: Joseph Fiennes, Tom Felton, Peter Firth, Cliff Curtis, Stewart Scudamore, Leanor Watling/ Rated: PG-13/ 107 min.