BR: Risen (2016)

May 26, 2016 | By

Risen2016_BRFilm: Very Good

Transfer:  Excellent

Extras: Very Good

Label:  Sony

Region: A

Released: May 24, 2016

Genre:  Biblical / Historical Drama

Synopsis: Clavius is tasked with making sense of Christ sightings after he personally supervised his crucifixion in this new take on the resurrection of Jesus.

Special Features:  XXX




Kevin Reynolds’ extremely keen interest in period stories (his Hatfields & McCoys is perhaps his finest work) continues with this very odd re-examination of Jesus’ crucifixion, based on a story by newbie scribe Paul Aiello. It’s essentially the arrest of Jesus and his hippie followers, their deaths, and the mysterious disappearance of Jesus’ cadaver and surreal reports of sightings of a ‘risen king,’ and the once brutal Roman soldier who’s every so slowly convinced love and hope are far better life views than the intricacies of battle, torture, death, and terrorizing masses into submission.

There’s three tones through which Reynolds plows through at a fairly efficient pace: action drama (rounding up the Jesus’ brethren), Biblical drama (Christ’s death and the politics of ‘traitorous’ Jewish leaders using Romans to quash pesky hippies), a police procedural (investigating Jesus sightings and what it all means); and a gradual swerving towards a pro-Christian drama validating love, forgiveness, and the unquantifiable peace one achieves through faith.

It’s a weird trajectory, but perhaps due to the film’s narrative economy, it mostly works, although not necessarily because of any stellar performances. Buffed Joeseph Fiennes adds nothing new to the dour, seasoned and cynical soldier archetype, but there are some marvelous moments in which Clavius’ ennui for meting out torturous death is unnerving; his best scene involves the interrogation of Mary Magdalene, and detailing the personal torment a crucified person undergoes to strip an arrested follower from a smiling goofball to a horrified weakling (although the payoff of that scene is quite surreal).

Peter Firth channels Charles Laughton in the dry, moping, selfish lord Pilate; and Tom Felton emotes the arc from green-eared soldier to cynic for Clavius’ imposed assistant Lucious.

Most surprising is Cliff Curtis (who ironically had a mall role in Reynold’s Easter island epic Rapa Nui), who’s pretty damn good as hippy Jesus (rebranded Yeshua); his words are select, and his philosophical ruminations tend to ask other characters (like Clavius) ‘What is it you want?’ rather than stand and spout Biblicalese.

The decision to turn the search for Jesus’ cadaver into a police procedural is rather novel (if not evocative of Andrew Kevin Walker’s Sleepy Hollow script, where Ichabod Crane is reworked into a nerdy behavioral FBI scientist), but it’s a bit of a cheat, given there can’t be a resolution to the Jesus ‘case.’ What’s left is Calvius’ personal quest for meaning, sending him as a tracker into the desert, where he ultimately drinks and breaks bread with Jesus’ followers.

Reaching Galilee fulfils the need to hit the main plot points of Jesus’ resurrection, but it’s somewhat deflated by an encounter with a Leprosy sufferer: after Jesus hugs and touches the man, he stumbles away, turns back to the camera, and emotes a ‘Huh, that was unexpected’ face and walks away. It’s a glaring illustration of Reynold’s lack of depth in giving the film greater emotional resonance, and the fault lies in the script (which he co-penned with Aiello) and a rather naïve view of the Jesus legend. When Jesus walks off into the desert one final time, there’s a CGI sunset and ‘Bye guys!’ wave that’s rather facile than soulful and inspiring.

Counter-balancing the film’s flaws are the gorgeous Spanish and Maltese locations, the fine sets, costumes, and décor, and Roques Banos’ superb score that packs a lot of ethnic instruments into an otherwise intimate score.

Risen is basically a Biblical B-movie, told simply, with a few innovations by a director and writer never seeking to proselytize viewers, but the final act feels like a TV movie wrap-up instead of the more intimate and emotionally affecting version of Philip Saville’s excellent (and very epic) The Gospel of John / aka The Visual Bible: The Gospel of John (2003). (An interview with director Saville and composer Jeff Danna is also available.)

To Reynold’s credit, this is a beautiful production with strong atmosphere and overall performances, and at 107 mins., it’s an easy to digest retelling of Jesus’ resurrection.

Sony’s Blu-ray sports an excellent transfer, deleted scenes, and several making-of featurettes, and the unique warning of “Biblical Violence” to alert more sensitive filmgoers of this otherwise PG-13 drama. Only qualms: the Sony brand name is more than oft-repeated in the film’s first few minutes, preceding and blended between logos to a ridiculous level.



© 2016 Mark R. Hasan



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Category: Blu-ray / DVD Film Review

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