Joseph Fiennes, Risen

Movie Review: Risen (2016) “CSI: Anno Domini”

Tom Felton, Joseph Fiennes, Risen
Most Christian films are awful.  It’s not debatable; they’re awful.  When Hollywood tries to make films of the Bible, they usually focus on decadent epics that lose the plot.  When Christians try to make films, the production values are low, the acting is poor, the writing is ham-handedly preachy, etc.  Both approaches miss the point.  Whether you think it’s the literal word of God or merely the most influential book of all-time, filled with stories and fables, the Bible has a million amazing films in it that never get made.  How refreshing it is then, to find a film like Risen.  Who would have guessed a focused, original Biblical film would come from the director of Waterworld?
Joseph Fiennes, Risen

Risen takes a unique approach to the story of the crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus Christ.  It’s told from the standpoint of a Roman Tribune (Joseph Fiennes) who witnesses the execution of Jesus (or Yeshua as he is referred to in the film), and is then charged by Pontius Pilate to guard his tomb to appease the Hebrew leadership.  Three days later, the tribune’s task is changed to one of investigating the disappearance of the body of the slain teacher, tracking down his apostles, and trying to reconcile what he knows with what he’s told and later witnesses.


The first half of Risen is not unlike a police procedural.  Clavius (the tribune) is a weary soldier of the empire, has seen enough death to render him jaded to anything divine, and Fiennes plays him simply as a soldier trying to solve a problem.  It’s an extremely unique perspective on a story that’s been told in media thousands of times, but that no one’s ever thought to approach from the viewpoint of the man charged to find the body of “The Nazarene”.  Clavius eventually finds what he’s looking for, and all it does is raise more questions as the second half of the film focuses on the period of time between the Resurrection and the Ascension.

Cliff Curtis, Yeshua, Risen

Fiennes is extremely good in the lead and I wish the first half of the film gave him a better supporting cast.  Poor Tom Felton.  He’s just always going to be Draco Malfoy from Harry Potter no matter how long it is.  You’d think he’d at least dye his hair so it wasn’t the shock white that renders him instantly recognizable as Harry’s nemesis.  Felton serves as Clavius’ deputy, and he’s not bad, but just like in Rise of the Planet of the Apes….he’s still Draco!  The acting and writing improve as the film segues into a more traditional Biblical film.  Reynolds (who also co-wrote the screenplay) writes the apostles and Yeshua as joyful people.  Cliff Curtis, who plays the Messiah, is smiling, laughing, and he’s the kind of Messiah you can see transforming the lives of the simple men who would become his apostles and the founders of a faith that would change the course of humanity.


I wish the first half of Risen, which is really the unique take on the event, was as captivating as the second, but it’s an extremely well-made film, faithful to its source material without being slavish and taking the unique (unfortunately) approach of showing you a Christ that could transform the world without beating you over the head with dogma.  Flawed though it is, this is the best Biblical film that I’ve seen in a long time and well worth your time as a rental

2 thoughts on “Movie Review: Risen (2016) “CSI: Anno Domini””

  1. Great to hear this. I will check it out. I continue to be amazed that Hollywood doesn’t seem to recognize (or care about) the money they could be making through quality Biblical and faith-based movies. I think it was probably easier for the forthcoming Sausage Party (an R-rated Pixar-ish CGI film that preaches atheism) to get made than a film that presents a story from the Bible in a well-made manner, and a respectful one. I did not think Passion of the Christ was the best-made film in the universe (it wasn’t bad, I just thought the first half lacked vitality, though the second half made up for it), but you’d think Hollywood would have taken notice right then and there. Maybe, in a weird nonlinear way, Mel’s subsequent breakdown cancelled out the progress made by that film.

    Ben-Hur is going to set the cause back. But given the spectacular disasters that were Noah and Exodus: Gods and Kings, that might not be a bad thing, at least for now, when it comes to Old Testament spectacles. They hired Timur Bekmembatov to direct, and the Touched By An Angel lady and her husband to produce, I guess on the theory that some kind of chemical reaction would occur, and produce a movie that would appeal to everyone. Plus a CGI chariot race!


  2. I saw Alice Through the Looking Glass, BTW. The audience ate it up, and even applauded at the end. (If I were a filmmaker I would want to bang my head against a wall if I made a crowd-pleasing movie and people were not giving it a chance, because of jaded critics and a star with a restraining order against him.) Given all the genuinely banal stuff out there, I don’t know why the critics are singling this film out in particular; it’s strictly a kid’s movie, yet it’s very imaginative, at least on a visual level, and it has a good message about familial bonds that does not feel like an afterthought. Adults might find themselves diverted, especially if they have an appreciation for steampunk.

    That said, I would hesitate to recommend it to anyone I know, even as a rental. It’s too protracted, Depp is now officially a kabuki performer, and it’s it’s weird that the source material is a hyper-imaginative piece of literature for the ages, and yet it’s barley even referenced in the movie. Instead this film is (to coin a new phrase) convoluted-lite, substituting mere cleverness for the brilliant nonsense and genuine profundity of Lewis Carroll’s masterpeices. The filmmakers could have given the books more structure, and even added emotional beats, while retaining most of the characters and events. But ninety-five percent of this movie has nothing to do with the book, and I’m being generous. I was expecting that, but I had held out hope that the visuals would compensate.


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