Thursday, February 18, 2016

'Risen' ascends no movie heights

A Roman tribune is assigned the task of finding the body of the crucified Jesus. Do you think he'll have a moment of revelation before his job is done?

A confession, if you will. I've always had a soft spot for bible and pseudo-bible movies. I have enjoyed their sword-and-sandle displays of kitsch, their faux reverence and their attempt to strike Hollywood's version of awe into the hearts of wide-eyed moviegoers.

I have not, on the other hand, ever confused bible movies with the bible.

So if you're a devoted Christian who thinks you'll find the new movie Risen to be convincing and inspirational, read no further. Know, though, that I'm talking about a movie, not your faith.

Risen adds a slightly novel twist to a revered story that, at first, seems to be taking place in the movie's background. Pontus Pilot (Peter Firth) orders a battling Roman centurion (Joseph Fiennes) to find the body of the crucified Jesus, called Yeshua in this version of the story.

Pilot worries that an empty grave will prompt the impressionable multitudes to assume that Yeshua has risen, thereby lending credence to claims that he is the messiah. Rome's rule will be threatened, and all hell will break loose -- or so to speak. Besides, emperor Tiberius is scheduled to visit Judea. Order must be maintained.

Director Kevin Reynolds (Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves, Waterworld and The Count of Monte Cristo) turns the movie into a first-century detective story in which most of the characters speak with English accents.

I suppose you can call Risen a faith-based police procedural in which an increasingly exasperated Clavius interrogates those who knew Yeshua, including Mary Magdalene (Maria Botto). He wants to find Yeshua's body, be rid of the whole business and return to Rome.

When he's totally frustrated with his task, Clavius asks the god Mars for help.

Though it may appear novel to young eyes, Risen shares some kinship with The Robe, a 1953 epic in which Richard Burton played a tribune who wins Jesus' robe after the crucifixion, and is, of course, transformed as the picture progresses.

In Risen, Fiennes' tribune has his moment of conversion when he sees Jesus -- er Yeshua -- with his disciplines after his death.

For Clavius, seeing is believing. He saw Yeshua on the cross, and knew him to be dead. Now, he sees him chatting with his disciples, a down-to-earth and friendly fellow who doesn't seem the least bit spectral, although he does take time out from fellowship with his comrades to cure a leper.

Adding new wrinkles to the story and tempering Roman cruelty with giddiness among some of the disciples -- especially Bartholomew -- about the prospect of eternal life deprives the story of some of its more interesting wrinkles.

As an unadorned portrayal of the first century, Risen generates mild interest with its avoidance of spectacle and its insistently dusty backdrops.

As an expression of spirituality, I found it unconvincing. Clovis changes because he's sat and talked with the resurrected Yeshua, not because of any abiding belief in his message.

Oh well, he's probably better off anyway: In this movie, being a Roman tribune looks like a pretty crummy job.

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