By Edward (Cleveland, OH)
Nowadays, it’s unusual for a faith-based film not made in Hollywood to get good reviews (well, mostly good reviews – there will always be those who seek to pan anything that has a religious context – but that is the way it is), but Risen is an exception. It seems to be ranking above average with the critics – and much above average with the viewers. This is a powerful movie that gets down and dirty when it’s necessary to do so – there is no sugar-coating of battle scenes, crucifixions, interrogations, or grave exhumations. There are no Hollywood rose-colored glasses.
The visual imagery is excellent. The verbal discourse is mostly Roman-to-Roman and just feels very realistic (no xx language). And the script, or plotline, is well thought out and developed. The net effect is a very believable, entertaining, and thought-provoking story – and by the way, the characterization is wonderful. The Disciples appear downtrodden and confused (except for Bartholomew who is refreshingly genuine), the Sanhedrin appear fearful and arrogant, and the Romans appear to be disgusted with the whole mess and just wished they were back in Rome.
But there is a real compelling story here. It centers around a top Roman officer named Clavius (Joseph Fiennes) who is tasked by Pontius Pilate to find the body of Jesus so that it can be unequivocally proved that He did not rise from the dead as had been foretold (the Jewish Sanhedrin were insistent on this because they believed that the Disciples had stolen the body in the middle of the night so that they could continue their offshoot Jewish ministry). Thus, Clavius and his young partner Lucius start to lead the greatest manhunt in history – ransacking houses, overturning graves, examining dead bodies, interrogating suspects, and generally causing a lot of ruckus. But of course, they find nothing. Along the way, Clavius starts to have doubts and second-thoughts. This is really what the movie is all about – a Gentile caught up at the beginning of the Greatest Story ever told – a Gentile enlightened before the missions of St. Paul to bring them the Good News. Gradually Clavius begins to believe, but it is difficult, even after witnessing the resurrected Jesus first-hand.
There are three powerful scenes: one when Mary Magdalene is brought before Clavius for interrogation, and one when Clavius and Jesus touch on the mountain the night before the Ascension. But the most powerful scene is when Clavius finds the Roman soldier who was supposed to be guarding the tomb and demands an explanation, such that the glory of Rome can be upheld. The soldier breaks down under the tremendous stress (caught between the Roman and Sanhedrin authorities with their strategic interests) in an extremely moving and emotional clip. I’m not sure who the actor is, but he should get an award, even though it was a bit part. Just a great scene – one that will stick in your mind even after the movie is over!
All in all, this is a must-see movie. Even if you’re not a Christian, the story is so tense that it keeps you on the edge of your seat throughout. It was beautifully filmed in Spain and Malta. Even the music is good.
It should be noted that the Jewish Disciples call Jesus by the name Yeshua throughout the film, a nod to historicity. In reality, He taught from the Torah, the Books of Moses, and was very much a part of Israel and the Jewish People. After the Jewish uprising and the Roman retaliation with the destruction of Jerusalem in 70 AD, the Jews were scattered, including the Jews that believed in Yeshua the Nazarene (sometimes referred to as followers of “The Way”). As Gentiles came to believe in Yeshua through the missions of St. Paul, the Jewish foundations became less influential. In the 3rd Century, the Roman Emperor Constantine unified the empire and created one state religion called Christianity.
A very long time ago God promised Abraham, that through his offspring, all the nations of the world would be blessed; a Messiah would come to be a light to the Gentiles, and bring salvation to the ends of the earth through a New Covenant. Clavius was one of the first Gentiles to “believe”. In the end, we all must make a decision about whether or not we “believe”.