I tend to shy away from seeing religious films. Personal beliefs aside, I just feel like many of these films end up being extremely preachy, slow and boring. But I decided to give Risen a shot partly due to its semi-decent ratings and interesting cast. And, you know what? For the first half of this movie, I was pleasantly surprised! I was treated to more of a crime-drama or “who done it” type of movie rather than a high-brow “have you accepted Jesus as your Lord and Savior yet?”-style film. Unfortunately, that style of movie did not hold up for long and by the midway point of the film, all of the main characters questions are answered and the rest of the film revolves around faith….and Jesus…. and mush… so… yeah… It turned into the religious-y movie that I feared it would be.
Roman military tribune Clavius (Joseph Fiennes) remains set in his ways after serving 25 years in the army. He arrives at a crossroad when he’s tasked to investigate the mystery of what happened to Jesus (Cliff Curtis) following the Crucifixion. Accompanied by trusted aide Lucius (Tom Felton), his quest to disprove rumors of a risen Messiah makes him question his own beliefs and spirituality. As his journey takes him to places never dreamed of, Clavius discovers the truth that he’s been seeking.
The first half was not only interesting and different, it was damn entertaining. Clavius is not, at first, shaken by faith or awe-struck when he sees Jesus on the cross, unlike many of his underlings. He is a skeptic to his core and spends most of the first half of the film attempting to round-up the apostles of the Nazarene in an attempt to figure out who stole his body. The people above him are afraid that by failing to do so, they will help create a messiah and with the Emperor on his way in under a fort-night… nobody wants that! Joseph Fiennes does a great job of playing a rough and tough Roman that is just trying to get some answers. He is mean enough that you believe he has actually killed people in the name of the Emperor but nice enough that you root for him to come out on top. His character helps this first part of the film seem interesting because, well, he is the cop and he is rounding up criminals. He even goes to some creative lengths to capture them and question them.
The turn in the film is where I started to lose some interest…. for a couple of reasons. The first, and most important, is the fact that, at this point in the film, the mystery is completely solved. You find out the mystery involving the Nazarene and the hunt is completely over. What the film does, after this point, is to illustrate Clavius’s shaken faith by making him do things out of character for him. But then the film at this point has an extremely different feel to it. Which brings me to my second reason for this half of the film feeling boring. That is the fact that it gets far too preachy with its message. If you can even say that this film has a message at all. You see Jesus far too much in this half and he is nauseatingly perfect and altruistic and the characters around him end up being far too reliant on his witchcraft rather than being able to solve problems on their own. You are supposed to be awe-struck by the ‘big guns’ upstairs by are, instead, depressed at the fact that previously CAPABLE characters feel useless and helpless.
Really the only good thing to come out of the second half of the movie are things you don’t necessarily see in religious-y films. And that is characters admitting that they do not know anything as to what is happening…that they, like you and probably the main character, have no idea what to do or what will come. Secondly, you get to see a bit of the early creative process for what will become the Christian church… I mean a VERY LITTLE, but it is still enough of a nod to be fun. Like there is literally one scene where one of the apostles is preaching to a group of people about the word of the lord and when he is done he turns to another apostle and says, “What was good wasn’t it? I think I’m going to use that more often!” I don’t know why, but that scene made me smile a tad. But these two things are really what make the last half of the movie even close to watchable for me…the rest honestly makes me want to barf.
I do also have to admit that the acting and the world that was built-in this film were pretty solid. Joseph Fiennes did a great job as well as Tom Felton (aka Draco Malfoy). Felton played a medium to heavy role in this film as second in command to Clavius and was able to stand out enough to be enjoyable– I just wish he was in the film or was more important to the film over all? Everyone else in this movie feels a bit like filler– even Jesus feels a bit liker filler to me. But the main cast did a solid job with what could have been an extremely dry movie from beginning to end.
If you’re religious, I would recommend this film. However, for those of you who aren’t, you probably will hate the second half of this film so I wouldn’t bother going out if I were you. This film is exciting and interesting at first, but drops off heavily later on. Maybe redbox it? Just sayin’….
Here is my Video Review :