Director: Kevin Reynolds
Cast: Joseph Fiennes, Tom Felton and Cliff Curtis
Running Time: 107 minutes
Release Date: March 18th
There are few films around at the moment that could be less tempting than Kevin Reynolds’ Biblical Epic Risen, which explores the death and return of everyone’s friend, Jesus Christ. Add to the basic premise, the fact that Sony Pictures are the masterminds behind this and then top it all off with the news that ‘Risen’ was produced by Affirm Films, their faith-based wing. Really, the appeal ends up about as thin as the paper and credibility of a Good News Bible.
The fact is that Christian cinema is perhaps the least nuanced, or balanced form of storytelling out there, next to maybe Stalinist Social Realism. When it comes to show and tell, Christian directors simply cannot contain themselves. Either they overdo the expositional dialogue, until scientists herald the imminent extinction of subtext, or they go overboard on the showing side of things, and by this, I mean, The Passion of the Christ with Mel Gibson’s More Gore/ Fuck Them Up to the High Heavens ethos.
If a filmmaker has a horse in the race, then of course they will be gunning for it, even if this comes at the expense of entertainment. So naturally, to Reynolds’ credit, he manages to make a film, which strives to convert disbelievers, without shouting in your ear. Granted, he still nudges you, with a suggestive brow, as if to say, “Hey, what do you think now? Maybe, huh?”, but at least he also acknowledges how one could easily take issue with the whole story, and dismiss it as a magicians illusion.
Reassessing the mystery of how Jesus rose, as promised, from the dead three days after his demise on the cross, this worn down myth is reinvigorated by spinning the plot into a crime procedural. Told from the perspective of Clavius, a Roman tribune and the right-hand man to Pontius Pilate, this cynical witness is intended to be a neutral character, if not a total atheist. Intensely rational, and world weary, he is called upon by Pilate to investigate the disappearance of a supposed Messiah, for fear that the news could spark an uprising amongst Judean zealots.
Blending CSI with The Hound of the Baskervilles, the ensuing search to rationalise this, a momentary lapse in reason sees Mary Magdalene and the Disciples called upon as witnesses, each expressing how they were stricken with awe and utter confusion simultaneously. Then, as Clavius encounters the man himself, referred to herein as Yeshua, and for once not white-washed, he too grows to appreciate why they were so baffled, but by notifying Pilate as to this change of opinion, hence, puts himself in peril for not remaining a staunch realist.
Risen is a film, which is tolerable because it does not attempt to brow-beat us with information on what has just happened. Reynolds clearly has an appreciation for the wonder of cinema inasmuch as he is aware that to mystify, as opposed clarify is the best means of captivating viewers. There are no cumbersome rambling monologues or John Wayne-esque “Truly this man was the son of Geaduh” sign-offs, which is a pity, since that could have been fun to mock.
I guess in the end, while they might not believe in evolution, when speaking about biology, at least Christians are willing to open themselves up to this concept as a cinematic theory.