Movies, Drama
3 out of 5 stars

A Roman soldier undergoes spiritual transformation in this thoughtful, well-intentioned drama.

Essentially a biblical detective story that begins as a Roman-led hunt for a missing messiah gone from his tomb, then grows into a semicompelling quest for something higher, Risen has sincerity and honest spiritual grappling on its side. All that’s missing from the movie’s early interrogations is that clanging Law & Order noise, as battle-exhausted military tribune Clavius (Joseph Fiennes) calls in various Jewish caricatures for questioning, confers with a scowling Pontius Pilate (Peter Firth) and runs down leads. (Clavius’s hot-headed aide is played by Draco Malfoy himself: Harry Potter’s Tom Felton.)

Bursting into a private get-together attended by the stigmata-marked Jesus—here referred to throughout by his Jewish name, Yeshua (a serene Cliff Curtis)—Clavius is stunned and falls to the floor. He follows the group into the desert, shedding his armor. Director Kevin Reynolds is no Martin Scorsese: Once upon a time, he made Waterworld, a sin for which he should still be atoning. But he does linger on Fiennes’s heavy brow, an appreciable shift to capturing an internal disquiet. The actor follows suit, sometimes approaching a hangdog, Roy Scheider-esque confusion that shades the movie nicely.

The back half of Risen is stronger, cutting through occasionally cheesy special effects with some well-written conversations about religious awakening. (Fiennes doesn’t exactly “squint against the grandeur!” per the Coens’ remarkably similar Hail, Caesar! but comes close.) It’s not often that faith-based films, competing in the same marketplace that rewards action, embrace the deeper, more difficult idea of meeting hate with love, but Risen tries. It’s a drama that neither seeks to convert viewers, nor confront true believers with anything uncomfortable—only reaffirm their bedrock convictions, the ones that are worth repeating.

Follow Joshua Rothkopf on Twitter: @joshrothkopf

By: Joshua Rothkopf


Release details

Rated: PG-13
Release date: Friday February 19 2016
Duration: 107 mins

Cast and crew

Director: Kevin Reynolds
Screenwriter: Paul Aiello, Kevin Reynolds
Cast: Tom Felton
Joseph Fiennes
Cliff Curtis
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