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Review: Risen

Risen
02.19.2016
6 10
 

PLOT: The Roman centurion (Joseph Fiennes) who supervised Christ’s crucifixion is sent by Pontius Pilate (Peter Firth) to recover the Nazarene’s body – believed to be in the possession of his disciples.

REVIEW: Ever since THE PASSION OF THE CHRIST raked in hundreds of millions at the box-office, biblical tales on the big screen have seen a comeback. The bigger-ones like NOAH or EXODUS: GODS & KINGS tend to do middling-to-fair business, with devout Christian audiences seemingly wary of anything not produced by die-hard members of the faith. As such, the movies that cash-in with that audience, like GOD’S NOT DEAD or COURAGEOUS tend to be very low-budget, often ineptly made efforts with no appeal beyond this select group.

Sony’s faith-based spinoff, Affirm, seems to be trying to change that a bit with their releases like HEAVEN’S FOR REAL and now RISEN often having solid Hollywood veterans involved, with a more subtle, less didactic approach to preaching a message. As such, RISEN is a relatively decent film as far as these things go, even if it’s clear throughout that it’s been made with a distinctly Christian audience in mind, with little left-over to chew on for secular audiences.

Director Kevin Reynolds is in good form here, being a specialist in period epics. Best known for his work with Kevin Costner on ROBIN HOOD: PRINCE OF THIEVES, WATERWORLD & TV’s HATFIELDS & MCCOYS, Reynolds also directed the excellent 2002 version of THE COUNT OF MONTE CRISTO (as well as the forgettable James Franco vehicle TRISTAN & ISOLDE). As a result, RISEN is well-assembled and shot, with a good eye towards period detail (it’s one of the few films where desert-dwelling soldiers don’t look freshly showered and scrubbed in each shot).

Early-on, RISEN seems poised to be more like Game of Thrones than History’s The Bible, before giving way entirely to religion, with a good early battle sequence depicting the Romans as they clash with insurrectionists. The crucifixion scene is notably well done, being strikingly different from Mel Gibson’s take in that it focuses on the overwhelmed Romans and the fury of the crowd.

 

It’s all anchored by a commanding performance by Joseph Fiennes, who hasn’t had a good leading role in a while but looks significantly bulked up as the centurion Clavius. Clearly taking the part seriously, Fiennes brings heft and gravitas to the proceedings (if his odd choice to play Michael Jackson on the BBC doesn’t do him irreparable harm he could be due a comeback). By contrast, Peter Firth is a little too diabolical as Pilate; with more ambiguous takes, such as David Bowie’s in THE LAST TEMPTATION OF CHRIST, being far more interesting.

After the really good first half hour, RISEN starts to taper-off. For a while it turns into a procedural (CSI: MESSIAH? LAW & ORDER: CENTURION?) and then, in the second half it settles in to being a straightforward religious tale, as Clavius becomes a believer after seeing the resurrection (Cliff Curtis is excellent as Jesus- called Yeshua here).

It’s when the faith-aspect kicks –in that the movie’s Christian mandate becomes clear. Despite Reynolds attempts to give this some weight, it becomes a kind of modern-era version of old silver-screen bible tales like THE ROBE (minus the cheese factor satirized in HAIL, CAESAR!). From herein, audience enjoyment of the film becomes really linked-in to whether they’re religious or not, with this being targeted specifically at the audience. At this point, any action elements are abandoned, as is the procedural aspect or any hint of roman political intrigue. It becomes about Jesus and his disciples and how Clavius is won-over.

As such, RISEN is for a specific audience and doesn’t have much crossover appeal at all. For a good chunk of the second half RISEN starts to feel like a sermon. Maybe that’s what that audience wants, but non-religious audiences won’t get much out of it as it lacks the artistic flair of something like PASSION OF THE CHRIST or the upcoming LAST DAYS IN THE DESERT, nor is it as thought-provoking as Martin Scorsese’s excellent THE LAST TEMPTATION OF CHRIST.

In the end, RISEN is a well-directed, well-acted movie with a really good score by Roque Banos. Reynolds remains a talented director who clearly has something to say (he co-wrote the screenplay) while Fiennes and Curtis are excellent. However, it still caters to a very select audience and people outside that audience are unlikely to find RISEN too rewarding a trip to the cinema.

Source: JoBlo.com

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