Faith-based films are an odd beast and can only really be judged outside of the unnervingly dedicated audience waiting in the US church. Risen makes an admirable effort to straddle both these realms. From the director of such life-affirming epics as Waterworld, it opts to make the story of Christ neither gritty nor fantastical, and does its best to avoid anachronisms; that’s if you can ignore dreamy Joe Fiennes and the odd blokey legionary. Aside from one ghastly CGI dream sequence, it’s a pleasant aesthetic that doesn’t betray its cause.
Risen‘s biggest strength is the way it relishes a unique perspective of a story so worn we have a holiday for it. Fiennes’ Roman Tribune, Clavius, is tasked by Pontius Pilot to find the decaying body of Yeshua, and put an end to Nazarene rumours that he ascended after crucifixion. Clavius’ task has political stakes, which, upon encountering the true nature of Christ, turn existential. Fiennes is accompanied by Tom Felton, now looking like an awkwardly enlarged JPEG of his child-star self, and their search for Jesus’ body is one of decay and futility. That is of course until it isn’t.
When it’s established that Christ (spoilers) has indeed risen, the film loses its claim to being an inside perspective piece, and Clavius gets swept up in a greater narrative that isn’t his. Admittedly, it’s hard to keep centrality in the story when you’re literally competing with Jesus, but the film’s midway tempering will be welcomed by some and bemoaned by others. An edgy premise and a welcome non-white, non-Adonis Jesus prove almost enough to stave the slippage into Sunday School sappiness.
Risen | Directed by Kevin Reynolds (USA 2016) with Joe Fiennes, Tom Felton and Peter Firth. Starts March 17