Risen (M)

In a word: Gripping

A well-imagined, somewhat small scale story seen through the eyes of a Roman officer present in Jerusalem at the time of the crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus Christ, Risen is a beautifully filmed, intriguing take on the life-transforming power of faith.

Risen

SWORDS AND SANDALS: Joseph Fiennes as Roman tribune Clavius and Peter Firth as Pontius Pilate are faced with the resurrection of Jesus.

An exciting and intriguing story with some strong acting performances and magnificent scenery, Risen will resonate with people intimately familiar with the story of Jesus as well as those who have never heard much about it before. Good viewing in the lead-up to Easter.

Roman tribune Clavius (played by Joseph Fiennes) is the go-to man for the Roman prefect in charge of the city Pontius Pilate (Peter Firth), tackling one bloody crisis after another in the name of the Roman Empire.

But when Pilate orders him to witness the crucifixion of Yeshua (Jesus) and then to investigate the subsequent disappearance of His body from a well-guarded tomb, Clavius finds the world that he knows turned on its head as he encounters those who have given their lives to this enigmatic figure.

The Biblical account of the death and resurrection of Jesus leaves many questions unanswered - gaps in the story, so to speak - and Risen, in the same sort of way past films like The Robe have done, makes an imaginative attempt to fill some of the missing pages in. Yet unlike some of the recent Hollywood productions which have messed with Biblical stories so much that, much to their detriment, they're barely recognisable (yes, we're talking about you Noah and Exodus: Gods and Kings), the storyline here remains broadly true to the accounts contained in the four Gospels and the Book of Acts.

It's the mystery which makes this film so gripping - it's easy, with the Bible so easily to hand today, to forget how confusing and strange Jesus and the new world He ushered in seemed to the early disciples. Yet Risen manages to capture a sense of the confusion the existence of Christ creates - not the least within the person of Clavius himself - but also deftly demonstrates the inexplicable joy that Christ brings to those who recognise Him.

Fiennes (who is here surrounded by death, so beware sensitive viewers) puts in a stand-out performance as the impassive Roman tribune and Firth deftly portrays a harried, under pressure Pilate while Stewart Scudamore, who plays Peter - the only one of the 12 apostles we really get to know, is a rough-around-edges, robust character much as you might imagine from the Biblical account. While some of the smaller roles don't quite hit the mark, that's not the case with Cliff Curtis, who portrays Jesus, and Tom Felton, who plays the role of Clavius' aide Lucius - they both turn in solid performances in a very limited space.

Director Kevin Reynolds (and co-writer along with Paul Aiello) moves the action along well and, through a sometimes innovative interpretation of Biblical events, manages to bring a sense of newness to the story even when we know so much already about the over-arching narrative (although the framing device used as the start and end of the film is clumsy and could have easily been dropped). He also manages to resist the temptation to wrap everything up nicely and instead leaves the story somewhat open.

The cinematography is superb, capturing not only a sense of Jerusalem and the landscape as it might have been, but doing a great job of communicating the texture of the times: the rough, hard bread; the fine, choking dust; and, the cool, cleansing water.

An exciting and intriguing story with some strong acting and magnificent scenery, Risen will resonate with people intimately familiar with the story of Jesus as well as those who have never heard much about it before. Good viewing in the lead-up to Easter.