MOVIE REVIEW: Risen reimagines Biblical stories with a modern twist

by Candice Lim
Feb 28, 2016

Jesus's story has been depicted in a number of films including the controversial The Passion of the Christ (2004), which earned big at the box office despite receiving an R-rating for its gory dramatization.

Most of these movies focus on His early life with the crucifixion as the climax and the messianic revelation as the ending. Now comes Risen, a retelling of His resurrection from the point of view of a fictional Roman soldier tasked to find the body of Christ.

Set in Judaea, Clavius (Joseph Fiennes), a tribune, comes home from a battle seeking respite and peace, but is instead called by Pontius Pilate (Peter Firth), a Roman prefect, to oversee the completion of the crucifixion of Yeshua/Jesus (Cliff Curtis).

Clavius, together with his aide Lucius (Tom Felton), rides to Golgotha and sees the Nazarene hanging on the cross. The soldier on guard reports that Yeshua is already dead. Clavius orders one of his men to pierce Jesus with a spear to assure the crowd that the man is truly dead. He also seals the tomb himself and assigns two soldiers to guard it.

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Lo and behold, three days later, Yeshua's body goes missing. The Pharisees, fearing the prophecy of the coming of the Messiah, pressures Pilate to manage the problem to prevent civil unrest. Pilate orders Clavius to retrieve the corpse and arrest the grave robbers.

Clavius goes on a CSI-esque investigation of the missing Yeshua--questioning followers, examining the crime scene, and following leads. He keeps on hitting a dead end and getting a single answer from witnesses: Yeshua has risen. In his quest to solve the mystery, Clavius gets to know the man they call the "King of the Jews."

A FRESH TAKE ON AN OLD STORY. Helmed by Waterworld director Kevin Reynolds, Risen creates an initial impression that it's going to be a gritty reboot of an old story. Shot in gray tones, the opening battle scene has some serious fight sequences--although it comes off as underwhelming with only about 50 people fighting all in all. But as the story unravels, it reveals a new take on a well-known plotline.

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Risen does away with common Christian references--calling Jesus by His Hebrew name Yeshua and skipping the bulk of the Gospel stories and starts where most of the Jesus films end: the crucifixion. It gives the political context of the time, the power play between the Pharisees and the Romans. It also injects just enough comedy to keep it light at certain points.

Told from the point of view of Clavius--a non-believer and a fictional character at that--Risen re-imagines the characters with a modern twist and with humor, like the apostle Thomas portrayed as a hippie. The other players were also humanized in a way, not just one-dimensional protagonists or antagonists. Pilate, for one, is shown as a man who would do anything to stay on top of things and to keep order in Judaea.

The film employs a small yet capable cast, led by Fiennes who succeeded in showing his character's conflicted state. Props should also be given to Risen for not casting a Caucasian actor (Hallelujah!) to play Yeshua, portrayed by Maori actor Curtis.

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Overall, Risen is a timely movie to watch this Lent, a refresher of sorts for the jaded. Given the not-so-serious take on the Biblical story, it might succeed in drawing interest from the non-Christian audience as well.

Risen will open in Philippine cinemas on March 2, 2016.

Ed's Note: The "PEP Review" section carries the views of individual reviewers, and does not necessarily reflect the views of the PEP editorial staff.

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