Saturday, February 27, 2016

Period Drama Challenge: Risen (2016)


Written for the Period Drama Challenge hosted by Laurie over at Old-Fashioned Charm. ❤ 

Risen (2016, PG13)
starring Joseph Fiennes, Tom Felton, and Peter Firth

I'd been anticipating Risen since I saw the trailer in a showing of Captive (a film well worth watching) last year. I honestly thought I'd missed Risen in theaters because they changed the 2016 release date from January to February, but I did uncover the new release date, and in the span of that first weekend release, saw Risen twice in the theater. No, that's not my usual habit, but I loved it so much when I saw it on the 18th that I went with my sister and a friend on the 20th and then sent my parents to the theater for their own viewing on the 21st.


The premise is this. It is the resurrection story as told from the perspective of a Roman Tribune, one of Pilate's most trusted officers, one Clavius by name. When the body of the Nazarene goes missing, Clavius is tasked by Pilate specifically to find it before it decays and put an end to the rumors that Yeshua (or Jesus) has risen from the dead. Clavius conducts interview after interview, his interest piqued by the unswerving loyalty of the followers of Yeshua. He is certain that the body was, in fact, stolen, that is until he encounters Yeshua himself, sees the wounds on his arms and the hold in his side. Where then can his loyalty lie? What decisions must he make based on what he has seen?


I talked with a gal at work on the Monday following opening weekend. She was a chaperone for her church's youth group at a showing on Sunday, the same showing my parents attended as it happens, but she also took unbelieving neighbors with her. Risen made them think. At the end of the film, Clavius must make a choice. Can he continue on with his life, on the same path as before, or must he make a decision to change based on what he's seen and experienced? You can't just go along in life without making a decision and proclamation of faith, be it one way or the other. You have to decide. I love that Risen has the capability to make people think.


As for Risen being a period film, it undeniably is one, and one of the better Biblical films I've ever seen. My sister, the historic clothing fiend, absolutely LOVED the historic garments. And I admit, there was a definite aura of authenticity surrounding them. Like these people lived in their clothes, which they would have. 

I think that's one of the things I liked so much. I bought that these men and women were from the era of Jesus. They're grimy and careworn, with ragged and dusty clothing just like you would have found back then. The disciples were the same, especially Simon Peter who's a rugged Jewish man with a ring of grizzled hair that sticks out under his cap. They owned the roles and made me believe I was in ancient Judea.


I'll get it out of the way right now. Yes, Draco Malfoy is in this movie. No, it doesn't bother me, and no, I didn't see Malfoy every time that I looked at Tom Felton's character, Lucius. Just like I wasn't thinking of Shakespeare in Love every time I looked at Joseph Fiennes. However, having these actors in this movie elevated it to a level that most Christian cinema never reaches. Throw Peter Firth into the mix and you cannot ask for a better cast of British actors.

I'm mildly frustrated that I couldn't find a picture of Cliff Curtis as Yeshua when he isn't hanging on the cross. Oh well, the internet isn't infallible after all. But I will say that he is the first Jewish Jesus I've ever seen. Most of them, if you'll be honest, feel like they're Catholic. With perfect hair hanging down their back and almost white skin. Cliff Curtis is of Maori descent in New Zealand, with olive skin, dark hair and rich, dark eyes. He plays a very sympathetic Yeshua, compassionate and good-natured and one of the many highlights of this film.

A clever stylistic tool was casting British actors as the Romans then more exotic actors as most of the Judeans. It created terrific continuity for the film that my sister noticed and praised and I agree with her.

The screenplay, I feel, is very cleverly done. Yes, it's a serious film, but the writers remembered that you have to incorporate humor unless you want the story to be depressing. Pilate is played with sort of a reluctant air, the air of a man who just wants to be left alone and cannot believe this drama is happening under his rule. Clavius and his second-in-command Lucius have a terrific bit of comedic timing in the way they play off each other. As does Clavius and Simon Peter near the end of the film, two such incredibly different men who somehow manage to make a connection because of Yeshua and Clavius' curiosity about this Nazarene. And Bartholomew, one of the disciples, is so jovial as to be almost absurd except that his faith is genuine and he would die for it. The dialogue is snappy and witty and absolutely memorable.

Bear in mind that there is quite a bit of violence. While you almost never seen the impact itself, you do witness the thieves legs being broken as they hang on the cross. The spear is shoved into Yeshua's side. The battle at the beginning is fairly bloody and I'm 99% sure that Clavius thrusts his sword downward through the top of a zealot's head. This is not a child's movie so don't treat it as such.


Never underestimate the power of a story told through the eyes of a skeptic. Why do we love C.S. Lewis so much? Is it not partially because he was a skeptic first and then came to faith? I admire men and women who doubted, did the research, asked the questions, and came to faith through genuine belief. Such is the story of Clavius. He has no real reason to believe except that he wants to believe. He's a lonely and somewhat tragic figure. He still has a compassion spirit, but it is severely dulled by his work, which includes a ton of bloodshed. He must hide any compassion as weakness, but deep inside, he longs for a day without death, something Yeshua knew and understood. 

There's a powerful moment in the film where Clavius has finally tracked down one of his wayward guards who had guarded the tomb and then hightailed it with silver in his pocket, having had his story bought by the Sanhedrin. Slightly drunk and very afraid, this guard describes the light, the stone blasting outward, and the Resurrection in a way that feels so very real. So real that he doesn't know what to do with it, and so he drinks. Which is tragic, of course, but at the same time, you cannot doubt his story.


There's a gap in Christian films, as if we think they need to be made just for us. No, they need to be made as an evangelical tool, and that is Risen's ultimate destiny, I think. So much outreach can be done through this film, and it gives me so much joy to have loved it so much and to see its potential.

Risen is still in theaters and is actually having a fairly successful run, having made around 22 million dollars since opening weekend, which is stupendous for Christian movies. I recommend it heartily. Take your family. Take your friends. And if you don't get a chance to see it right now, well, the DVD and Blu-Ray release is undoubtedly coming soon! ❤ 

11 comments:

  1. Pilate cracked me up.

    He's typically played one of three ways:

    - the hard-nosed Roman psychopath (see: "the Bible" and "A.D." and "Barabbas")
    - the reluctant man who crucifies Christ ("The Passion of the Christ," and several others)
    - the "UGH I HATE THIS PLACE" froo-froo (see: "Ben-Hur," where I swear he's gay, and "Risen").

    His whole SIGH approach amused me.

    Actually, Basil Rathbone played him once. I still haven't seen that. Might have to go dig it up just for LOLz.

    Nice to see Christian films stepping it up a notch. :)

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    1. I wish there was an in-between Pilate. Although I do think this Pilate had some interesting views on mortality and that might have been part of what pushed Clavius to find some meaning to his life because there has to be more than just death at the end.

      Basil, huh? Now that would be . . . strange. Of course I've seen him play some odd roles so Pilate might actually suit him. After all, if Marlon Brando can play Brutus then Rathbone could play Pilate! :)

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    2. I think Clavius and Pilate are a lot alike, only Pilate is "further along" in his life than Clavius. I got the impression that both of them are weary of their job in dealing out death, and desire a more peaceful time in their lives. The difference is that Clavius pursues that peace, in the form of following Christ, while Pilate makes a deliberate choice to brush off Christ and resume his political pandering.

      (One issue I do have is with the ending -- Pilate writes off Clavius. That's not exactly how Rome worked, and it makes it seem like Clavius' life will be okay -- after deserting his commanding officer and his men. He's a traitor and Rome will see him as such.)

      Basil: he looks handsome in the photos. I did manage to find a copy online, but I haven't taken two hours out of my time to watch it yet.

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    3. I suspected as much. Rome wouldn't just let one of their tribunes go off like that without some type of punishment. It's only logical. And it would kind of make for an interesting sequel, watching him trying to avoid being captured by Rome. I doubt they'll make it, but it does give me scenes to ponder!

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    4. (I watched "The Last Days of Pompeii." It was surprisingly enjoyable. Basil's Pilate was... very sympathetic. I liked him a lot.)

      No. Desertion carried a heavy penalty. He was contracted to Rome for a certain amount of years, and until that time was up he was not permitted to leave -- then he could either re-contract himself or walk away. I suppose a thin argument could be made that his contract was about to be up, but it's a bit "convenient" either way.

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    5. I kept all this in mind while I was at the movie again this morning, and I think that Pilate was dismissing the matter for right now because Caesar was about to arrive any minute and he didn't have time to deal with it, but I think they left it pretty ambivalent as to whether he was finished with the matter forever. Just my take, anyway.

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  2. I'm really hoping to see this again while it's still in my theater. You already know I love it, but one thing I forgot to mention in my review was how much I loved Bartholomew! He was this ray of unexpected sunshine and cracked me up continually. Especially his line, "They're everywhere!" Oh man, he was a scene-stealer.

    I'm very intrigued by the fact that Joseph Fiennes has now made two distinctly Christian movies, this and Luther.

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    1. Well, Charity and I have already done a little bit of discussing over Joseph Fiennes and, if anything, he's likely Catholic. Which is kind of funny then that he would play Martin Luther! But if I wasn't praying for him before, these 2 roles have given me incentive to pray for him now because it seems that his heart has softened.

      And yes, Bartholomew is a terrific character. So . . . jovial and enthusiastic. I love that!

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    2. He is Catholic. He was delighted to meet the Pope in Rome when they screened "Risen" for the Vatican.

      He's filming as Eric Liddell in "The Last Race," about Liddell's missionary work in China and his death in an internment camp.

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    3. Very cool! I read one interview with him right after Risen came out, and he was sort of wishy-washy noncommittal about whether he was a Christian, so I was really wondering if that reflected his actual beliefs, or if he was being careful. (Though now I'm tossing him on the same pile as Armie Hammer, the ones who once in a while say they're Christians, but most of the time say, "I have my own personal beliefs," which is a cop-out and makes me mad.)

      So anyway, wow! A movie about Eric Liddell! That could be so cool.

      And finally... looks like Risen is playing here at 10:30 this Saturday, which just might work out for me to see it again! Huzzah!

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    4. Yay, I'm glad you get a chance to see it again! I almost want to see it a 3rd time, but I don't think I'll have the time this month. We'll see what happens.

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