Spoiler alert: Jesus rises from the dead. Gasp!
This is my review of Risen!
After the Crucifixion, Jesus’ body has been entombed. However, three days later, His body goes missing. Tribune Clavius, played brilliantly by Joseph Fiennes (younger brother of Harry Potter actor Ralph Fiennes), is tasked by Pontius Pilate to find the missing body in order to prevent an uprising from Jesus’ followers.
Christian films are a hit or miss genre. Sadly, the genre is known for its misses rather than its homeruns. I am glad to say that Risen is definitely an excellent hit in the genre.
Joseph Fiennes deserves, at the very least, Oscar consideration. His expressive face and intense eyes sell the seething persona of Clavius. He can be both intimidating and approachable. He commands the screen with a silent performance similar to Leo DiCaprio in The Revenant. His conversion is a reluctant, gradual turn that is brought full-circle by Fiennes’ mesmerizing performance. I commend the film for essentially making Clavius a nonbelieving character without vilifying his unbelief.
I like how Pontius Pilate is haunted by “the Nazarene” while still being a shady, self-centered politician. I appreciate that he doesn’t have a change of heart because this is something many people experience; refusing to change their ways after an event shakes their corner of the world.
Yes, Tom Felton (Draco Malfoy) is in this movie. At first, I was very concerned that he would be a distraction. I’ve only seen him in the Harry Potter films, so I only know him as Draco. Thankfully Tom Felton has the right amount of screen time. The movie doesn’t use his celebrity as a crowd-grabbing gimmick.
Jesus Himself is seen on the cross in the first ten minutes and then doesn’t show up until the beginning of the third act. I think this was a wise move. Jesus’ presence is felt throughout the film. His name brings fear to His opponents and joy to His followers. His memory holds strong in Clavius’ mind. This strategy is brilliant because when Jesus does show up, there is appreciation for His long-awaited return. While the actor playing Jesus does come off as a bit of a hippie, it is a respectful portrayal that concentrates on Jesus’ merciful nature. Also the guy who plays Saint Peter is wonderful, a big brother type who brings some light humor while remaining believable as the one Jesus entrusted the Church to.
The last twenty minutes do feel stretched out. Risen has what I call “Return of the King” syndrome in which right when the movie seems like it is coming to its conclusion, a new scene will begin and the film keeps going.
For moviegoers who prefer more fast-paced cinema, Risen might feel a tad slow. It is a character study of Clavius’ internal conflict and there are very few action sequences.
Risen was a pleasant surprise. What makes it an intriguing narrative is the humanistic portrayal of the characters, Joseph Fiennes’ incredibly subtle performance and the graceful handling of Jesus’ death and resurrection.
Saint Faustina Kowalska, pray for us.