Dir: Kevin Reynolds. US. 2016. 108mins
Hollywood’s latest play for the faith-based audience re-tells the biblical story of the resurrection of Jesus with a contemporary feel, classy production values and a solid (and mostly British) cast led by Joseph Fiennes. Carefully non-preachy and sometimes quite dramatically effective, Risen, from Sony’s Affirm Films label, certainly has crossover potential, though it might ultimately prove too low-key to attract both Christian and non-believing moviegoers in really big numbers.
Reynolds manages to put the action, mystery and drama elements together into a credible, and at times quite touching whole.
A US opening on Feb 19 will put Risen in cinemas nearly a month ahead of faith-based Easter releases Miracles From Heaven (also from Sony) and The Young Messiah. Pre-Easter openings are also set for a number of other territories, though the film’s international tally is likely to be much smaller than its domestic take (Affirm’s Easter 2014 release Heaven Is For Real managed $91m in North America but only $10m elsewhere).
Directed by Kevin Reynolds (Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves) and written by Reynolds and Paul Aiello, Risen tells its familiar story from the point of view of a Roman soldier (giving it a superficial resemblance to fifties Richard Burton drama The Robe).
After the crucifixion of Jesus (played by Whale Rider’s Cliff Curtis and referred to in the story by Hebrew name Yeshua) and the disappearance of the body from an apparently sealed tomb, battle-weary military tribune Clavius (Fiennes) and his aide Lucius (Tom Felton) are ordered by Pontius Pilate (Peter Firth, from British TV’s Spooks) to quash rumours of a risen Messiah.
While a brief crucifixion sequence echoes the brutal realism of The Passion of the Christ, Risen soon turns into a more character-based drama, with Pilate fretting about the political implications of a Jewish uprising and Clavius leading a manhunt for Yeshua’s followers.
When he finally finds the disciples – played as a refreshingly down to earth bunch of mates – and Yeshua himself – portrayed as a smiley and mild-mannered spiritual leader – Clavius has an epiphany that makes him turn his back on soldiering and take up, reluctantly at first, with the new movement.
Though there’s some clunky dialogue and not much real character development, Reynolds manages to put the action, mystery and drama elements together into a credible, and at times quite touching whole. And the locations in Spain and Malta give the film atmosphere and a handsome look.
The supernatural elements – a quick miracle, Yeshua’s sudden appearances and disappearances and his ultimate ascension – are relatively understated, with little of the cheesiness that often plagues biblical movies.
Production companies: Columbia Pictures, LD Entertainment, Affirm Films, Liddell Entertainment
Worldwide distribution: Sony Pictures
Producers: Mickey Liddell, Patrick Aiello, Pete Shilaimon
Executive producers: Robert Huberman, Scott Holroyd
Screenplay: Kevin Reynolds, Paul Aiello
Director of photography: Lorenzo Senatore
Production designer: Stefano Maria Ortolani
Editor: Steven Mirkovich
Costume designer: Maurizio Millenotti
Visual effects supervisor: Rafa Solórzano
Music: Roque Baños
Main cast: Joseph Fiennes, Tom Felton, Peter Firth, Cliff Curtis