Reviewer: Charity Bishop
Hollywood has not put out a decent Biblical epic in a long time; their last few ventures have been box office failures due to protests over altering scripture to invent a more secular narrative. Risen has few such problems; the worst it suffers from is a little slowness in the center, and defaulting to antiquated views of Mary Magdalene.
Judea is a hot bed of potential revolution and Clavius (Joseph Fiennes) has just retuned from a conflict with zealots, when Pontius Pilate (Peter Firth) tells him to "finish the job" of crucifying a local messiah. Pressured by the crowd to put him to death, he ordered his execution -- and now wants it over with as soon as possible. Along with his new tribune Lucius (Tom Felton), Clavius arrives just as Yeshua breathes his last. Concerns arise that the disciples may steal the body and stage a resurrection, so Clavius orders two soldiers to guard the tomb and goes home for the night.
By the dawn of the third day, the tomb is empty, the Roman soldiers have fled, and Pilate wants answers... which starts Clavius down a journey that ultimately will lead him to unexpected discoveries to forever change his life.
For a relatively low-budget Christian based production, this is an excellent film that captures the spirit of upheaval in Judea at the time. It does not mess with the Biblical narrative too much, and actually spends a significant amount of screen time with Yeshua after His resurrection. It has an unusual approach to the Ascension, a lot of sarcastic dark humor woven in to lighten the darker moments, and interesting characters (Peter in particular has a bit of a temper). It does feel a little low-budget sometimes in its scope (one doesn't really get a sense of the Roman occupation, and there are few extras in the background of significant scenes) but it is an engaging story about a man whose life is all about death -- who finds and becomes fascinated by a man of peace. The ending is a little convenient, but it says something for a film when its greatest flaw is casting Mary Magdalene in the role of a "woman of the street" (prostitute).
The acting and costume design is quite good, and there are some truly powerful moments and scenes. Yeshua in particular has a strong presence, and it's marvelous to see ethnicities playing the Judeans for once, instead of your usual "Renaissance-inspired" cast. Only the Romans are "white." It is part drama, part criminal procedural (as Clavius follows clues to lead him to Yeshua), and part redemption story, but it never becomes preachy or pretentious.
Mary Magdalene is depicted as a "woman of the night"; a man asks which of the men in his legion "knows" her, and all but one raises his hand. Pilate asks a man if he wants "a woman."
The film opens with a violent conflict between Romans and Zealots, in which men are killed with swords and spears. Men's bones are broken on the cross (impact heard but not seen); Jesus' side is penetrated by a spear. A man threatens to torture people for information. A group of people beat up a leper and kick him.
The Romans dig around in a mass grave and dig up bodies; some bloated and/or disintegrating corpses are shown.