By John Lupia
Risen is another rationalistic approach to religious filmmaking which never fails to disappoint. The dialogue is very poorly written. The characters are not recognizable as coming from the New Testament narratives. Kevin Reynolds and Paul Aiello have taken a very clever idea of telling the crucifixion, resurrection, and post resurrection accounts through the eyes of a detective but miserably failed and ruined it by giving us a very poorly developed, written, casted, and acted film from its tragically weak and muddled beginning to its inauthentic anticlimactic end.
One should not place blame on the actors for their poor performances, but rather, to the poor direction given to them by Reynolds. The main character, Clavius (Joseph Fiennes), a Roman Tribune, is sent by Pilate (Peter Firth) to break the legs of Christ on the Cross as an act of mercy. When he arrives Jesus (Cliff Curtis) is already dead. Because of Jesus’ mother Mary’s presence (Frida Cauchi) and her insatiable weeping at the Cross he dispatches a Roman soldier to pierce his heart rather than break his legs as a gesture of courtesy to her. It gets worse. It seems the day after the crucifixion Caiaphas (Stephen Greif), the chief priest of the Temple in Jerusalem suggests Jesus’ body should be burned to avoid the potential threat of propaganda from his disciples that he is risen from the dead as he had prophesied. So instead Pilate counter suggests that they seal his tomb and place a guard there.
Of course the two men (Andy Gathergood and Jacob Yakob) put on sentry duty are complaining like spoiled children moaning that they were supposed to get the night off. To appease them Clavius promises to send someone who will bring them their supper. He doesn’t. The whiners whine (pun intended) getting drunk and pass out. All of this unnecessary nonsense caters to the skeptics in the audience who do not believe in the reality of the physical resurrection, supply them with ample plausible deniability. Well, what do ya know, the body of Jesus is reported missing the next day, it being the third since the crucifixion. Pilate does not want problems with those very powerful Jewish priests who seem to have some secret influence over him at Rome. So he sends Clavius to find the body of Jesus and arrest the disciples who broke into the tomb and spreading the lie that he has risen.
During the so-called investigation the apostle Bartholomew (Stephen Hagan) is brought in for questioning. The character is straight out of Jesus Christ Super Star or Godspell, a very late 1960’s Encino flower child who ate too many happy meals. It does get worse. Lo and behold, Clavius finds a dead male Jew who was crucified, pierced in his hands, feet and side giving the hungry skeptics more chewable clatter cluttering up a film purportedly made about faith. Pilate is satisfied having the corpse, but Clavius for some unknown reason is not. The weaknesses in the plot only get even worse. For neither an apparent nor explainable reason Clavius directly disobeys Pilate, who commands him to go to Hebron. Instead Clavius continues to investigate the whereabouts of the body of Jesus, which he already delivered to Pilate, and is dead set out to find and arrest his disciples. Go figure!
Anyway he opens the door to the upper room finding the eleven apostles and Jesus all having a jolly good time. And here you have it — one quarter through the film Clavius is miraculously converted at this jovial dinning sight and the rest of the film could have been edited out in the editing room since the so-called detective story ends. The remainder of the film ineptly wrestles with the consequences facing Clavius who has now deserted his post and Rome intertwined with new silly twists to the post resurrection narratives!
The originally intended classic Hollywood big finish must have been the scene where Jesus is not ascended into heaven but simply disappears in a sonic boom that hits earth from the biggest sunspot of all time. However, they changed that as the ending to show a Cecil B. DeMillesque scene showing the arrival of Caesar to Judea with Pilate saying they will never see or hear from Clavius again. Let’s hope so.
Caiaphas: The Nazarene said he could rise again after three days. You will lose peace and order if it’s true.
Pontius Pilate: Will the people believe it?
Caiaphas: The weak will.
Pontius Pilate: There will be no other gods.
Pontius Pilate: [to Clavius] Kill him.
Clavius: The tomb is sealed. Guard it with your life.