This tale of faith and redemption marks a new chapter for biblical epics. While not perfect, Risen still delivers one of the best portrayals of Christ's death and resurrection to date, as we witness the events from the eyes of a pagan outsider. 4 out of 5.
Set in Jerusalem during the resurrection of Christ, Risen follows a Roman tribune (Joseph Fiennes) who is charged by Pontius Pilate to uncover the missing body of Jesus. Aiding in the investigation is Lucius (Tom Felton), a young and ambitious soldier hoping to make his mark in Judea. As the search leads them through an assumed vast conspiracy and into the path of Christ's disciples, the truth behind the missing Messiah proves more fantastic than they ever imagined.
Risen's narrative format is arguably its strongest asset. The entire film is shown from the perspective of a loyal Roman citizen, allowing viewers to experience significant biblical events from a completely new angle. The story is further strengthened thanks to a diverse and compelling supportive cast. None of the disciples ever take on a leading role (we get to know Bartholomew and Peter best), but their ensemble performance offers a unique glimpse into the life of Jesus. It should also please Christians to know the film, despite being a fictional story, stays true to events of Scripture.
Fiennes and Felton do their best with what they're given, but their characters are largely hollow and stoic. Fiennes's Clavius spends most of the movie silently brooding, and rarely displays motivation. Meanwhile, Felton’s character never quite evolves beyond ambitiously doing the will of Clavius and/or Pilate.
Christian Worldview Elements / Spiritual Themes
Risen is essentially a story about the resurrection, so Christian elements are in high supply. There are frequent references to 'Yahweh' and to 'Yeshua' as his son. The concept of the Jewish Messiah is also discussed at length, including by a group of zealots Clavius must put down, and Jewish beliefs are also touched upon. In addition to the resurrection, Jesus performs numerous other miracles. Many biblical events are depicted. The Roman gods, including Mars, Minerva, and Neptune, are briefly mentioned. Clavius prays to Yahweh, but in the format of a Roman prayer, promising to erect temples and put on athletic events in his honor.
Want Another Take? Watch Crosswalk's Video Review of Risen
A major theme in the movie is peace. The Romans were very interested in keeping 'peace' through order, but even Pilate seems skeptical when Clavius announces his hopes to find peace away from the battlefield through a traditional route of promotions, raises, family and property. The Clavius we meet at the end of this story is a wanderer who has none of these things, but he has the truth of the things he has witnessed, which give him a serenity he lacked previously.
CAUTIONS (may contain spoilers)
- MPAA Rating: PG-13 for action violence and some disturbing images
- Language/Profanity: The occasional Old Testament curse, but otherwise fairly clean.
- Sexuality/Nudity: Two men are shown in a Roman bath but their lower halves are covered. Men are shown shirtless. Mary Magdalene is said to be a "woman of the street" and many men imply they "know" her. A brothel is shown, but no nudity. Crucified prisoners wear only loincloths.
- Violence/Frightening/Intense: A bloody battle is shown between Romans and Jews. Several crucifixions and their aftermaths, including corpses. Clavius accidently cuts Peter's leg. A man is beaten. Torture is implied but never shown. Graves are dug up, and decaying bodies are visible.
Drugs/Alcohol: Men are shown drinking wine on numerous occasions. One suggests their drinks may have been drugged.
The Bottom Line
RECOMMENDED FOR: Christian viewers looking for a new and exciting movie with biblical themes. Also for history fans looking to understand the politics of ancient Rome and Israel.
NOT RECOMMENDED FOR: Children under 13. Otherwise, Risen is the kind of faith-based movie which could appeal to most audiences, though some secular reviewers are already criticizing the film for not presenting "other theories" to answer the mysteries at hand.
Risen, directed by Kevin Reynolds, opened in theaters February 19, 2016, available for home viewing May 24, 2016. It runs 107 minutes, and stars Joseph Fiennes, Tom Felton, Peter Firth, Cliff Curtis, and Stewart Scudamor. Watch the trailer for Risen here.
Ryan Duncan is Entertainment Editor for Crosswalk.com.
Publication date: February 19, 2016