Russell Baillie writes about movies for the Herald

Movie review: Risen

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Joseph Fiennes as Clavius and Tom Felton as Lucius in a scene from Risen.
Joseph Fiennes as Clavius and Tom Felton as Lucius in a scene from Risen.

Yes, that's our very own Cliff Curtis suffering for his art as Jesus, who we first see upon the cross about to be put out of his earthly misery with a Roman spear. But other than bleed painfully, and smile beatifically in later scenes among the disciples, Curtis doesn't get to do a lot in this retelling of the resurrection.

This American film, clearly aimed at the international Bible belt, starts off as as swords and sandals detective story, with Jesus the missing person, before defaulting to a hollow gospel drama.

Joseph Fiennes plays Clavius, an earnest, efficient Roman officer charged by Pontius Pilate (Michael Firth) with cleaning up after the crucifixion, the reasons for which the movie assumes its viewers will be familiar with.

But when the crypt holding the body of Yeshua (his Hebrew name) is busted open and left empty but for a familiar shroud, Clavius is charged with finding the body before Yeshua's followers start proclaiming him the risen Messiah.

Clavius, aided by Lucius (Tom Felton), goes about his mission with stern resolve, disinterring fresh graves and rounding up a disciple or two as well as Mary Magdalene (Italian actress Maria Botto). Finding her does allow for one amusing gag that might have made the cut in The Life of Brian.

Meanwhile, Clavius' only tactic when it comes to shaking the the truth out of the disciples is to give them a stern talking to - though he does stab one in the leg accidentally later.

Then again the first disciple we meet, Bartholomew (Stephen Hagan) comes on like a hippie cast member of Jesus Christ Superstar waiting for the band to strike up another show tune.

Shot in Malta and Spain, Risen certainly looks dusty and ancient but it's no Biblical epic.

Cliff Curtis as Jesus in Risen.
Cliff Curtis as Jesus in Risen.

Its action scenes amount to an early Gladiator-lite battle between a Roman legion and some renegade Jews, and much running through desert gullies by Clavius and the disciples, pursued by Pilate and his troops.

Having uncovered the truth and been astounded by it, Clavius aligns himself with Team Yeshua and heads into the Judean wilderness. Eventually he finds himself having a quiet word in Yeshua's ear, only to say, having witnessed the miracle, he can't think of anything to ask. Which is something of a cop-out.

Joseph Fiennes as Clavius and the apostles on the Sea of Galilee.
Joseph Fiennes as Clavius and the apostles on the Sea of Galilee.

It might start off as a mildly challenging reinterpretation of Christianity's most pivotal story, but really, the only boat Risen wants to rock is the one the disciples take fishing on the Sea of Galilee.

Verdict: A mixed blessing.


Cast: Joseph Fiennes, Cliff Curtis
Director: Kevin Reynolds
Rating: M (violence. content may disturb)
Running time: 107 mins

- NZ Herald

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