“Risen” is an odd movie that sits somewhere in between pious and pop culture. Not since “Jesus Christ Superstar” fused the bible with a backbeat has a Christian film mixed-and-matched the spiritual with the secular in such an audacious manner. Part bible story, part police procedural, for much of the movie it plays like “Law & Order: Jerusalem.”
Told from the point-of-view of nonbelieving Roman centurion Clavius (Joseph Fiennes), the action in “Risen” really begins three days after the crucifixion of Christ (Cliff Curtis), in the days following the Resurrection. Judaea prefect Pontius Pilate (Peter Firth), concerned that the recently crucified Nazarene’s followers have stolen his body and will claim he has risen from the dead, orders Clavius to “find the corpse of the cursed Yeshua before it rots.”
Clavius is a hard-bitten warrior, growing weary of the fight. He dreams of a “day without travail; with peace.” Maybe so, but before that time comes he must launch a “CSI” style investigation into Yeshua’s disappearance with Pilot’s words—“Without a corpse we might have a messiah.”—ringing in his ears.
His relentless search uncovers several unexplainable clues—he writes off the Shroud of Turin as an imprint left by “sweat and herbs”—that eventually turn him from someone who “sees delusions to keep a crusade alive” to a follower of Christ.
“Risen” works best when it is in procedural mode. Like “The Robe” and other biblical films that use scripture as a backdrop for a different kind of story, “Risen” feels like two different movies. The first half is a thriller, a detective story complete with interrogations and observation of suspects. When it changes into a more traditional faith based story, however, it becomes less interesting. It’s respectful to the source material and Fiennes is fine in both roles—the dutiful soldier and early adopter of Yeshua’s teachings—but it feels frontloaded in the first hour.
“Risen” isn’t exactly a religious movie. It’s more a spiritual story about a man who learns how to find the peace he has always craved through Christ’s teachings. The messaging is strong, but this is more the tale of a man’s change of heart set against the backdrop of the beginning of Christianity than it is a bible story.
It’s about faith and the strength of belief, but is flawed by inconsistent dialogue style—it ranges from sword-and-sandal formality to modern day vernacular—and the limitations of a low budget that prevents any truly miraculous visions.