IT’S not easy to provide a fresh angle on any of the Biblical tales, much less on that most significant story of the resurrection of Christ. But Risen, an admirably intentioned new faith-based epic, does exactly that by focusing not so much on the figure of Jesus himself but rather on the methodical non-believing Roman tribune Clavius (Joseph Fiennes).
He is tasked by Pontius Pilate (Spooks star Peter Firth) with finding the body of the recent crucified Jesus of Nazareth as a way to stop the faith-fuelling idea of him being resurrected spreading across the land which would surely undermine the rule of the Roman Empire.
Christ’s resurrection is not an idea that should be handled lightly by any filmmaker but director Kevin Reynolds takes it on in full stride and manages to wring something new out of it.
The idea of turning the tale of the resurrection into what could readily be described as an ancient police investigation is a fascinating one, a sideways look at something that’s so well-known that any sort of straightforward depiction often comes across as either same old-same old or needlessly bombastic, something successfully lampooned in the recent Hail, Caesar!.
Standing out from the too often monotone Christian films, the mystery element is handled very well with Clavius being our anchor through a personal journey that swings from stoic doubt to reluctant belief. He’s the personification of the cynical viewer who may look at the very idea of faith with dubious eyes. At first he strides from village to village, fellow armed Roman soldiers in tow, attempting to find a corpse stolen by those with peacefully threatening agendas that sit at odds with Roman rule.
He then finds the weight of cynicism steadily dropping from his eyes when he hunts down the disciples before wandering off with them on a journey of faith revelation that would have seemed utterly preposterous to him mere days earlier. It’s in the latter segment that the film steps over the line into Sunday School clichés but for the most part the film admirably avoids such trappings.
Risen may turn out to be one of the most pleasantly surprising films of the year. Not because it’s particularly fantastic – some of the faith-based dialogue has all the subtlety of the crucifixion itself, for instance – but simply that it confounds expectations of how you should handle this most sacred of tales. It’s essentially a hard boiled mystery cloaked in Biblical times and it works surprisingly well.