Movies rarely if ever live up to their billing hype. Generally the book is better than the movie. However, the movie "Risen" is a far better film than it's novelization. The movie is not another "Passion of the Christ" film. I am quite convinced no movie could capture the scope or power of that film.
"Risen" is a simple story. It's not a classic in the sense of "Ben-Hur" or even "The Ten Commandments". "Risen" tells a good story of hope, faith, and the power of wanting to believe in something that has altered all of human history.
Risen - Part 1
The film begins with the main character wandering in the desert; our Roman hero has seen much to make him question his gods. The film then transitions to the Romans stationed in ancient Israel dealing with the Zealots; it is a messy, unpleasant and realistic confrontation between the might of Rome and the desert freedom-fighters.
Clavius (Joseph Fienes) is our hero in the making; a true Roman in all his duty and devotion to his god. After a bloody battle he returns to Jerusalem only to find himself being ordered by Pontius Pilate to go and make sure the morning’s execution is quickly carried out; Pilate is tired, haggard and annoyed with the Jewish leaders. This portrayal of Pilate seems closer to historical reality than most portrayals I have seen; a man with real fears and at the same time one who was ruthless in his dealings with the Jews.
Clavius arrives at the crucifixion and does his duty; displaying some elemental humanity as not all Romans were brutal men who enjoying killing. He did his duty as he saw fit. The death and cross scenes are not pleasant and they are far more realistic than most of these type of movies; not for kids certainly.
The film does show the brutal life Clavius is accustomed to and yet he is a man of fears and questions while trying to fathom the Jew nailed to the cross. One scene where he looks up at the deceased Jesus you can see that he does not understand something; it is also an important moment that we come back to later in the movie.
The next day Clavius is ordered to seal the tomb as Pilate and the Jewish leaders do not want the disciples stealing the body and then claiming Jesus came back from the dead.
Risen - Part 2
The body of Jesus is gone and Pilate orders Clavius to find it. The Roman hero sets out to question people in order to discover a body, and yet he is beginning to believe he will never find.
He questions Joseph of Arimethea. This is an entirely plausible scene between a Jewish leader who wants to believe and a Roman who doesn't quite understand why or even what Joseph believes about Yeshua. Jesus as we commonly pronounce his name is never used in the film. He is called Yeshua throughout the film.
He eventually finds and questions Mary Magdalen. This may be the only semi-weak scene in the film; so much more could have been used or said.
Finally after much searching, digging up other dead Jews and not finding a body, as well as the growing impatience of Pilate, our hero runs into the risen Lord by accident as he bursts into an upper room.
Risen - Part 3
Clavius is stunned, bewildered, and unable to comprehend who he is staring at in the upper room. The scene is powerful as Jesus shows his wounds and talks to the stunned apostle as Clavius watches with a look of a man terrified and struggling to understand how the man he saw on a cross is sitting, talking and looking in his direction.
The latter half of this film has Clavius following the disciples to Galilee as Jesus told them to go there and wait for Him. He encounters a more believable Simon Peter; a loud, robust man on a mission. He encounters Jesus in a private moment. He is with the disciples when Jesus appears to them; he eats with them. Yet, you still get the feeling that Clavius is struggling even though his doubts are weakening.
The ending of the film is similar to how it began, Clavius wandering toward something; in the book he is heading back to Jerusalem. One gets the impression that Clavius does believe but he is still on a journey to full complete acceptance.
Risen - Conclusion
As I said in the introduction, this film is actually better than the book; but read the book anyway as it does contain the complete story. Overall, I would very much recommend the film. It is well done, it tells a the basic story in a simple and well-written and portrayed manner.
Joseph Fiennes plays our very Roman hero with all that makes him believable as a soldier of the Roman Empire. The cast around him is played well. Some characters could have been fleshed out a little more, but overall it is a movie worth seeing and owning. A film that makes you wonder what happened to the main character is a film that is well made and this one is well made for being a Biblically based film in our secular age.
About the author
David is an ex-military kid; born in England, saved on Okinawa, Japan. He attended Century College for his AA Degree and loves writing as much as he loves books. He loves history most of all; but will read about anything. He likes to write and spend time at book stores, usually Barnes & Noble. David enjoys First Free as a church and a place to work where he serves on the custodial staff. David is a Jewish Christian.