The mystery of faith

Under the direction of Kevin Reynolds, who also earns a screenwriting credit alongside Paul Aiello, Risen is a faith-based drama that has legitimate crossover appeal. Eschewing the heavy-handedness and rabid selfrighteousness that plague so many faith-based films (the Left Behind franchise, for example), this is a fairly engrossing and entertaining yarn.

Set in AD 33, the story follows Clavius (Joseph Fiennes), a hardened Roman tribune charged with investigating the mysterious disappearance of Jesus (Cliff Curtis) three days after the crucifixion. Clavius, who answers to one Pontius Pilate (Peter Firth) – and is even referred to as Pilate’s right hand – goes about his investigation with determined conviction, even as the circumstances surrounding Jesus’ whereabouts defy any known logic.

Unlike many faith-based movies, in which the message overwhelms the movie – or, indeed, sometimes is the movie – Risen incorporates its message into the context of the narrative, which is presented primarily as a detective story. Clavius may be cynical, but he’s also a professional. The spiritual transformation he undergoes is not immediate, but gradual, and therefore more believable. It also helps that Fiennes, who is onscreen constantly, gives a first-rate performance in the role.

Like so many Biblical epics, the Roman characters sound as if they were trained at RADA (Royal Academy of Dramatic Arts) – a few likely were – but Reynolds affords them a measure of character shading. Firth’s Pilate isn’t a sniveling villain but an overworked bureaucrat whose job it is to maintain order, yet even he exhibits doubt that the execution of Jesus didn’t solve a problem, but might well have created one for the Roman Empire. (How right he is!) Tom Felton is saddled with the onenote role of Clavius’ sidekick Lucius, but Stewart Scudamore and Joe Manjon, respectively playing the disciples Peter and Bartholomew, offer good-humored interpretations of their roles, likewise Curtis, whose Jesus (or “Yeshua”) is an appealing deity who doesn’t speak in platitudes or preach incessantly but is instead friendly, accessible and appealing – exactly the sort of individual who would inspire a following among the masses.