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Risen | reviews, news & interviews

Risen

Risen

Multiplex targets converts with Joseph Fiennes as a Roman soldier who finds God

Turn the other cheek, fellas. Joseph Fiennes and Tom Felton in 'Risen'

It’s unbelievable how hard it is to retell the greatest story ever told. And yet dramatists still feel the urge. The BBC had a big Easter binge a few years ago with the Ulster actor James Nesbitt playing a sort of Prodius Pilate. Now here’s a film financed by producers of a missionary bent. It’s called Risen and it’s essentially a sermon disguised as a sword-and-sandals epic.

Still reading? Risen’s closest cinematic forebear is possibly Ben Hur in which a non-Christian is drawn into the benign orbit of an unkempt Nazarene pauper with healing powers. In this case the benighted pagan is Roman tribune Clavius (Joseph Fiennes), who is the military man in charge in Jerusalem when Jeshua (as he is known here) is nailed to a wooden cross. You may well know what happens next, but Clavius couldn’t be more baffled when the body somehow disappears from a tomb into which it has been sealed behind a very large rock. So he sets out to unearth the truth.

What follows initially has all the grammar of a police procedural, involving suspects, witnesses, informers and interrogations. In a raid Clavius manages to track down a dozen loonies and hippies to a hideout only to discover their number augmented by the previously executed prophet, now dispensing smiles, hugs and beatitudes. The tribune is soon following the disciples out into the wilderness, hoping for another sight of the risen prophet on the banks of Galilee.

Risen is produced, directed and co-scripted by Kevin Reynolds, who in another life was helmsman to Kevin Costner’s apotheosis as Robin Hood, then oversaw the hubristic flopperoo Waterworld, from which Costner’s career still seeks resurrection. Reynolds has done his best to make Risen look like an actual movie. The opening montage features Clavius bodaciously smiting a horde of mangy zealots in battle, while nothing is stinted in showing the gory horror of crucifixion. Jerusalem looks marvellously dusty and the Judaean outback horribly hostile.

The problem is the drama. As in the entire lack of it. What tension there is boils down the face-off when Clavius's eager young assistant played by Draco Malfoy (aka Tom Felton) becomes his slightly feeble nemesis. Peter Firth plays Pontius Pilate as an irascible old toad who needs to quell local turbulence before the emperor Tiberius sails into port. The thankless role of the leper-caressing saviour of mankind goes to Cliff Curtis who beams a lot and says little. The film has a bit of fun twitting the disciples as a rowdy bunch of romantic outcasts but the dialogue doesn’t exactly earn the King James Version kitemark of quality. “I am yet sticky with filth,” says Clavius when summoned to see Pilate.

Fiennes, sporting a diagonal fringe and a cut lip, does what he can, and yet the size of the journey he is asked to go on – from battle-hardened world-weariness to rebirth as a Christian apostle – barely registers on his poker face. The choice to underplay the dramatic arc feels less like an artistic decision. Risen is a film about spreading the good news, and enlisting converts, not through bible-bashing harangues from the pulpit, but through cautious persuasion. But you can't stick that on the poster.

You may well know what happens next, but Clavius couldn’t be more baffled when the body disappears from its tomb

rating

Editor Rating: 
2
Average: 2 (1 vote)

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