Starring: Joseph Fiennes, Tom Felton, Peter Firth, Cliff Curtis
Rated PG-13 for Biblical Violence including Some Disturbing Images
As far as Christian films go, "Risen" has the virtue of at least being watchable. It's not as affecting as "Hardflip" or as entertaining as "Mom's Night Out." But on the flip side, it's not as preachy as "War Room" or as offensive as "God's Not Dead." That's probably because it's directed by an established filmmaker and has a cast of professional actors.
Clavius (Fiennes) is a Roman centurion living at the time of Christ. Pontius Pilate (Firth) has, at the behest of Jewish leaders like Caiaphas (Stephen Greif), arrested Yeshua (Curtis), a man who has proclaimed himself the Messiah, and put him down for crucifixion. Of course, after he's crucified, the body disappears. With claims that Yeshua has fulfilled his prophecy and risen again, Pontius is nervous, especially because the Emperor will pay him a visit shortly. He sends Clavius and his right hand man, Lucius (Felton), to find the body as soon as possible. Or else.
The use of a fictional character to explore the story isn't a bad idea because it prevents the film from being a play by play of Jesus's death and ascent into heaven. Clavius doesn't boast an especially interesting character arc, but it gets the job done. The problem is that they cast Joseph Fiennes in the role. To his credit, Fiennes underplays the role, which makes him seem like something other than a piece of wood. Unfortunately, that leaves him without much of a personality, and I'm not sure that's necessarily an acceptable trade-off. Peter Firth is much more interesting as the diplomatic but dogged Pontius Pilate. As a man whose interest in Yeshua is less of religious zeal and more a desire for self-preservation, it's an interesting take on the character. Tom Felton is effective, but he has little to do. The casting of Cliff Curtis as Yeshua is a mistake. Not only does the actor not have the inherent goodness that one might imagine Jesus would have, he comes across as creepy. When he stares into the camera and appears to look right at the viewer, the effect is unsettling. Plus, Reynolds plays the "there one minute, gone the next" trick, which is straight out of a horror movie.
There are some affecting scenes here and there, and it doesn't preach or evangelize (although someone in the theater came up to me after the show and asked me if I believed if Jesus had risen from the dead...that was an awkward moment). It also has the virtue of looking nice; the cinematography by Lorenzo Senatore is quite lovely. But it's too long and headlined by an actor of limited talent. Cast someone else in the lead role (and in the role of Yeshua) and shave off around ten minutes and you'd have yourself a nice little movie.