Reverent, Joyful & Inspirational Jesus in ‘Risen’

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Average: 5 (1 vote) Oscarman rating: 4.0/5.0
Rating: 4.0/5.0

CHICAGO – I am a recovering Catholic, which I’ll tell you a million times – or maybe shortly after I meet you – and I have to say I had a well of nostalgia while experiencing “Risen,” the story of Jesus’s Resurrection and aftermath. It is enjoyable, in a strange way, for Christians and film fans alike.

There is a lightness to the story, with a little historical re-creation thrown in for good measure. The Jerusalem of Christ’s time is portrayed with the dirt and grit of the age, which also lent an air of authenticity. It reminded me of the 48 hours after the John F. Kennedy assassination, in which the shock of the event reverberates like a wave. The intrigue of whether Jesus – called by his Hebrew name Yeshua in the film – was the true Messiah played right into into the I-wash-my-hands of those who were charged with nipping it in the bud. Also, the actor they found to portray the Christ was a surprising choice. All in all, this ain’t my Daddy’s “Greatest Story Ever Told,” but a more expressive piece of re-telling.

The film’s opening is a battle outside Jerusalem. It is the Romans versus the Hebrews, and it’s bitter fighting. The Roman military leader, or Tribute, Clavius (Joseph Fiennes) is in the midst of the battle, and as he takes no prisoners. He gets back inside the city and it immediately called in by Pontius Pilate (Peter Firth). It seems that Pilate has just ordered the execution of Yeshua, the Nazarene (Cliff Curtis), and the body is still hanging on a crucifix.

Joseph Fiennes
Clavius (Joseph Fiennes) Makes a Discovery in ‘Risen’
Photo credit: Columbia Pictures

Pilate orders Clavius to make sure the body is sealed away, for the rumor is Yeshua is the Messiah and will rise from the dead. The tomb has a two ton rock in front of it, yet in the morning of three days later, it is empty. Panic comes from Pilate, and Clavius is now charged with finding the disciples. He takes his right hand solider Lucius (Tom Felton) under his wing for the investigation and search. What they find will have profound implications for Clavius, and humanity.

Clavius represents the non-believer, and his transformation is subtle, brought on by the people around the Christ. There is a flipped out scene with the apostle Bartholomew (Stephen Hagan) that radiants energy and joy that this miracle has happened. Mary Magdalene (Maria Botto) is a blunt prostitute who has been converted, and sounds like Golda Meir. She doesn’t care about the “investigation.” The apostle Peter (Stewart Scudamore) is a wise old fool, and so on, and so on. The film has an attitude about this story to make it relatable, a cool fire of increasingly warmer proportions. 

Creating the proper environment for the time meant having dirt, dried blood, diseased people and flies around open-air death. These were harsh times for humanity, and I harken back to that line from Jesus Christ Superstar – my go-to for all things Yeshua – “why’d you choose such a backward time/And such a strange land.” The era of Christ on earth was a human-eat-human world, with a few open air markets. “Risen” provides the context.

When we finally see Yeshua in the film, it is a revelation. It is a Jesus that relates to his times, in look and attitude. There is something about the way that director frames actor Cliff Curtis, and the actor’s decisions about the character, that makes Jesus truly accessible. Believers will go crazy (in a good way) about this interpretation, because it gives them a Savior who is an abiding and gentle advisor. Every scene that Curtis is in, he casts an appropriately beatific presence, with nothing overdone.

The ‘Story’ in Mid-Chapter in ‘Risen’
Photo credit: Columbia Pictures

A word on director Kevin Reynolds (“Waterworld”). His choices on the use of miracle and “magical” realism really kept the story fascinating. The deeds and goodwill of Yeshua is told mostly through his followers, rather than the direct views of the events, and that proved so much more effective, especially as Clavius – portrayed with essential balance by Joseph Fiennes – is converted. This virtually parallels religious culture, as the belief system builds through the congregation – it simply can’t get any more “renewal” than that.

For believers, this is a must see. It will provide a calming anchor to the storm of daily infiltrations. For the rest, it will be a engaging portrait of a man and time – for better or worst – that has profoundly influenced civilization for over 2000 years… and counting.

“Risen” opens everywhere on February 19th. Featuring Joseph Fiennes, Peter Firth, Tom Felton, Maria Botto, Stewart Scudamore, Stephen Hagan and Cliff Curtis. Screenplay by Kevin Reynolds and Paul Aiello. Directed by Kevin Reynolds. Rated “PG-13” senior staff writer Patrick McDonald

Writer, Editorial Coordinator

© 2016 Patrick McDonald,

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