Topic: Movie Review
If you are looking for a different take on the Biblical epic, you must get thee to a theater and see Risen. This movie is a wonderfully-paced Biblical thriller that presents the search for the Nazarene Jesus after his death and “disappearance.” Kevin Reynolds (The Count of Monte Cristo) directs a stellar picture both faithful to the spirit of the story, and novel enough to interest even the most jaded audience. It packs all the emotion of a Passion of the Christ with the Roman perspective of a Gladiator.
The movie stars Joseph Fiennes (Luther, Enemy at the Gates, Hercules) as Roman tribune Clavius rising through the labrynthine infrastructure of Roman military authority, thanks in no small part to his usefulness against warrens of Jewish Zealots in first century Judea. After the execution of a rabbi named Yeshua (Jesus), the entombed body turns up missing. Pontius Pilate, portrayed by Peter Firth (Shadowlands, Amistad ), prefect of Judea, assigns Clavius with the daunting task of finding the body and the responsible party before the situation becomes an ill-timed fiasco, with none other than Emperor Tiberius arriving for an inspection of the province.
The questions presented in the movie are ones I have often wondered about as a historian. The Romans typically left no stone unturned (pun intended) in an investigation. What this movie does that makes it so unique is that it presents a manhunt from the perspective of a Roman commander. This man, Clavius, had life-and-death responsibilities and the weight of authority on his shoulders, and has to marshal resources to get the job done. But Clavius—harsh but fair—is looking for a reasonable answer to a question that defies reason. His incredulity is understandable, and we sympathize with him, until he is brought face to face with the impossible answer to his question: the hiding place of the disciples and among them, the man Yeshua who disappears before his very eyes. He is heretofore haunted by the face he saw at the crucifixion, there smiling and laughing in front of him. It impels him to follow the disciples to Galilee.
Clavius was an officer. He prayed to the god Mars faithfully. He dreamed of a life of accomplishment and peace beyond the savagery of war and blood. When Mars fails to deliver, in desperation he secretly prays to Yahweh, promising (in Roman fashion) temples, sacrifices, and games in his honor, if he can help him find the body of the missing Yeshua. It is in Galilee, not at the end of a long career, that Clavius’ questions are answered, and that ever-sought after peace is found.
Risen is an amazingly, well-done picture. It had me waiting for the next scene. I might add that it has something for everyone. If you are going for the message and Biblical epic, you won’t be disappointed. If you want a big Roman picture—Clavius and his men have some moves—with swords and fighting, you too will not be disappointed. If you want a murder-mystery, this is the ultimate in the genre. Risen is cerebral and physical, and manages to be epic and faithful to the Gospels without being preachy…..and yet, it preaches. I highly recommend it.