Take a Drink: for every Biblical Cameo
Take a Drink: every time Clavius flips his robe.
Take a Drink: every time warns someone he’ll get what he wants.
Do a Shot of Wine: for every miracle.
By: Mitch Hansch (Three Beers) –
Trying to get some of that recent sweet faith-based box office money, Sony has activated the new production company Life Affirm and chosen Risen as their latest release. It recounts Jesus Christ’s, aka the Son of God, aka Yahweh, aka The Big JC, aka Yeshua (as called in this film), miraculous rise from the grave told from the eyes of the weary Roman soldier Clavius (Joseph Fiennes) who is charged by Pontius Pilate to track down the body of the Jew he saw die on the cross. So that all heaven doesn’t break loose, Clavius embarks on the greatest man/god-hunt of all time.
This film is meant for the believer, and on that level, it very much works. Risen knows it’s target audience and works hard to appease them. While the film does have a tendency to scroll through some of the Bible’s greatest hits, the overall tone is done, refreshingly, in a low key, saving us from the over-the-top theatrics that has often smothered this type of audience. The other thing that really works here is Jesus, and it’s not so mysterious. I applaud the ethnic casting of the longtime strong actor Cliff Curtis (Three Kings) as Yeshua and not going the obvious blonde-haired washboard abs route. I’ve got to think that playing Jesus is a dream role, and Curtis is tremendous in his later scenes that depict the Messiah’s absolute love for his lost sheep. His talk with Fiennes’ Clavius near the end shows spectacular restraint and nuance and therefore is very moving.
While ultimately Risen has enough going for it, director Kevin Reynolds and company committed plenty of filmmaking sins here as well. Budgetary constraints are obvious. Reynolds is definitely going for a Gladiator opening battle sequence, trying to show how the Romans dealt with rebel Jews, but I was not entertained. In fact, the first half of the film felt tedious after a while with the whole ‘manhunt’ plot. I’m not sure how many times Clavius warns the people in question that, “he can ultimately have what he wants so you better fess up”, but it was a lot.
Casting was also a point of fault in Risen. Yes, Curtis was a bold choice, but the big marquee name here, Joseph ‘Eli to Peyton’s’ Fiennes didn’t do much for this viewer with his way less is more approach. Fiennes does look like he’s in his best shape, and he makes sure you notice when he gratuitously takes off his soldier garb. The real casting agent blunders were with some of the smaller parts. I laughed out very loud when cockney Mark Ruffalo hit the screen. Not kidding, one of the guards of Jesus’ tomb who looks a great deal like the Hulk-ster has a strong cockney accent- not a good casting move if you ask me gov’ner. And why are the actors who play Jesus’ disciples, who are all Jewish in descent, played by Middle Eastern looking actors except for Bartholomew, who is very white and has maybe only fewer lines than the disciple Peter? It’s seems very counterproductive to the excellent not so white casting of Jesus.
Risen is worth saving a couple bucks for spending at the movies. Risen be with you, and also with you.