‘Risen’ offers fresh take on the last days of Jesus

Printed from: https://newbostonpost.com/2016/02/19/risen-offers-fresh-take-on-the-last-days-of-jesus/

There’s no doubt that the latest film about the life and last days of Jesus could be one of the most accurate and well-done since Mel Gibson’s “The Passion of the Christ” hit the big screen in 2004, though it might be surprising if “Risen” creates the same splash as “The Passion” or “Son of God,” which swept box office numbers in 2014.

The Columbia Pictures PG-13-rated release debuts Friday – an awkward timing leading up to the Easter holiday. It possesses a quality that can likely be attributed to directing by Kevin Reynolds (who directed “Hatfields & McCoys” and “Fandango”), the talented acting of Joseph Fiennes (known for playing William Shakespeare in “Shakespeare in Love”) and Tom Felton (known for his portrayal of Draco Malfoy in the “Harry Potter” film series), and the unusual narrative approach to a well-known story.

The tale of Jesus’ death and resurrection is told through the eyes of a fictional Roman military tribune, Clavius (Fiennes), who must find the body of Jesus (called “Yeshua” in the film) after it disappears from his tomb. The Romans are concerned that without a body, the rumors of a Jewish Messiah risen from the dead could incite an already-brewing uprising.

Clavius’ manhunt, ordered by Pontius Pilot (Peter Firth) and aided by a young soldier, Lucius (Felton), leads him to interrogate the Jewish leader’s joyful disciples. Ultimately, he becomes haunted by deeper questions about the identity and message of the person whose corpse he’s seeking.

Careful attention to Roman culture and biblical accuracy paired with Fiennes’ convincing acting create a fascinating film. But despite the stellar lineup, “Risen” still has flaws that will be noticed by its biggest fans – those who are most familiar with the story of Jesus’ life, death and resurrection.

Certainly, the film’s angle is bold – it takes the audience along a skeptic’s journey but it also respects the biblical and historical storyline. The result of this depiction is likely to be a message that preaches to the choir of the faithful while offering authenticity to nonreligious viewers.

“Risen” also approaches the story in a fresh way by opening the film with Passover week and the crucifixion, as opposed to ending with the killing of Christ, where most recent movies about the events conclude. But by taking that storyline, the film must creatively explain difficult scenes – the disappearance of Jesus’ body after his resurrection, Jesus vanishing and reappearing to his disciples, and his ultimate ascension into heaven.

Not all such scenes are accomplished successfully, and the film may struggle to stir the soul of skeptics in the audience.

For the religious viewer, the film’s attentiveness to biblical history may be educational – accurately portraying Mary Magdalene as a former prostitute, or Jesus’ rushed burial by the Jewish Pharisee Nicodemus, for example. Careful observers and theology buffs, however, might find Hollywood’s license and some theologically questionable lines difficult to swallow.

Fiennes, who does not consider himself particularly religious but comes from a Catholic background, summed up the film’s result himself in a Feb. 10 interview with the Catholic News Agency:

“Now, some people will love it, some people will kind of go: ‘Yeah, it’s okay,’” he said. “But no one has gone to the other length. And, when you’re dealing with this narrative, I find that we’ve been very lucky.”

Contact Kara Bettis at [email protected] or on Twitter @karabettis.