Directed by Kevin Reynolds. Produced by Patrick Aiello, Mickey Liddell, and Pete Shilaimon. Written by Kevin Reynolds and Paul Aiello. Release date: February 19, 2016.
Risen is another example of a film that sounds better as a pitch on paper than it does as a full-fledged idea. It's a detective movie set in biblical times, and it chronicles the tale of Clavius (Joseph Fiennes), an agnostic Roman Centurion, who is tasked with tracking down Jesus Christ (Cliff Curtis) following Jesus'
zombification resurrection. That, without a doubt, is a good idea for a movie on paper. It's a different take on a well-known story, and while it's clear from the outset that there's a definite goal from the people telling the story, it being different is enough to make it interesting.
The problem comes from the type of movie Risen winds up being. If you've ever heard the story of Christ's resurrection before - or realize that the film has been produced by Affirm Films (a Sony subdivision that makes films primarily for Christian audiences - to "affirm" their faith) - then any sense of mystery that the detective story might have gets thrown out the window. You know he's going to discover that, no, Jesus' body wasn't just stolen; he was resurrected. And considering the first hour or so of the film is dedicated to this very "mystery," it falls apart before it even had a chance. If there was a bit of subtlety, perhaps it wouldn't be so painfully clear what happened, but that isn't the case.
So, you know that Clavius eventually locates Jesus, who has come back from the dead. Risen plays for another 45 minutes after this point. It turns out that the story we're telling isn't so much for Clavius to find Jesus - it's to find Jesus. But there's no narrative pull here, save for the rest of the Roman army trying to track down Clavius and his new friends, Jesus' disciples. A good chunk of it has the characters sitting around and talking about how awesome Jesus is. The hook of the film is gone, and it feels meandering from this point forward. That might be okay if the first hour had compelled us, and watching Clavius' conversion from nonbeliever to believer was interesting, but since none of those things are true, the film doesn't work.
Some of that falls on the shoulder of Joseph Fiennes, who is great as a stoic Centurion but not so good as a man whose entire belief system comes crashing down. Instead of showing, say, awe, he remains stoic. Any character growth he shows is delivered through dialogue, not facial expression. He's fun to watch for the first hour, when he's in Roman Detective Mode, but after he's switched sides, he remains in that mode. This is likely more of an issue with Kevin Reynolds' direction than with Fiennes himself - Fiennes is a fine actor - but it's a problem nonetheless.