[Screen It]


(2016) (Joseph Fiennes, Tom Felton) (PG-13)

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Drama: A Roman tribune has his beliefs challenged when he is tasked with investigating the disappearance of Christ's body following the crucifixion.
It's A.D. 33 and Clavius (JOSEPH FIENNES) is a Roman military tribune who believes in his Roman gods, but not those of other religions around him. With Yeshua (CLIFF CURTIS), a.k.a. Jesus, having become the messiah for the Jews of this occupied land, Pontius Pilate (PETER FIRTH) wants Clavius to oversee the religious leader's crucifixion, and assigns young tribune Lucius (TOM FELTON) to accompany him. Despite the common practice of simply burying the crucified in a mass grave, Lucius allows the messiah's followers to take Yeshua's body and place it in a tomb, with the caveat that it be sealed and guarded by two Roman soldiers.

When those men end up drunk and fall asleep, it's discovered that Yeshua's body has vanished. Fearing how this could be perceived by his followers and the rest of the Jews and could result in an uprising, Pontius Pilate orders Clavius to find Yeshua's body as well as those who took it, and persecute them. The tribune then goes about that work, interrogating those who knew Yeshua, including Mary Magdalene (MARIA BOTT), a prostitute who was one of his followers. As Clavius continues on his quest, however, he soon comes to believe in Yeshua as more than just a mortal man, including that he indeed may have been resurrected.

OUR TAKE: 5.5 out of 10
Part of the job of a screenwriter is in pitching their completed script or work-in-progress story idea to studio execs, producers and people putting up the necessary funds to finance said films. It's not an easy thing to do -- which holds true for many a sales pitch in most any industry -- but it's a necessary evil to make a sale and get one's script produced.

While most Hollywood and related types will claim they want something original, in reality they're desirous of a film that's similar enough to some past movie or movies that has/have made tons of money at the box office. In short, they want a pitch that goes along the lines of "It's like a mix between 'Star Wars' and 'Harry Potter' with a little "Hunger Games' thrown in for good measure.

That said, I'm guessing that screenwriter Paul Aiello didn't use the following when pitching his story idea for the Biblical drama "Risen." "Imagine if we took the story of Christ's resurrection, but mixed with it with a bit of the TV series 'The X-Files' and lifted some plot ideas from the old sci-fi thriller 'Logan's Run.'"

Granted, it's hard to say what the original pitch was, especially after writer/director Kevin Reynolds gave it a once or twice over once the project landed in his lap. And truth be told, the story is fairly akin to the plot of the little if ever seen 2006 film "The Inquiry" (itself a remake of the 1986 film of the same name) where emperor Tiberius sends a fictional Roman tribune to investigate the reported divinity of a just crucified Jesus.

I've never seen that pic, but while watching "Risen" unfold over its 107-some minute runtime, I couldn't get the "X-Files" or "Logan's Run" comparisons out of my head. After all, the story here has Pontius Pilate (Peter Firth) ordering Roman tribune Clavius (Joseph Fiennes) to investigate the mysterious disappearance of Christ's body from his post crucifixion tomb. He goes about interviewing those who knew Christ (named Yeshua here, and played by Cliff Curtis) and disbelieves talk that he's risen from the dead, all while trying to find the truth out there.

Before then, he's ruthless government enforcer who has no problem killing those who don't fall in line with the status quo's religious beliefs and ways of thinking, including via public displays of execution. But as he goes about his job, he has a change of heart and ends up going on the run, with his former partner (Tom Felton) now being sent off to find him, all while our protagonist searches for the greater meaning of the world and his place in it. You know, sort of like what happens in "Logan's Run."

Having not seen or even being familiar with "The Inquiry," I found the first half or so of the film fairly intriguing. And that's because it takes a somewhat novel or at least different view of the Resurrection as told from the viewpoint of a non-believer. And when he ends up leaving the flock, if you will, and has his still compliant ex-partner on his heels, the stage would seem set for an interesting and perhaps even exciting conclusion.

Instead, Reynolds guides the story into Clavius having various encounters with Jesus/Yeshua and witnessing things he can't explain (i.e. various miracles, such as healing a leper, etc.). That's all designed to introduce doubt, conversion and then faith into his character. While that will appease those of faith in bouts of head-nodding affirmation, it doesn't make for great cinematic drama, at least as conceived and executed here.

It doesn't derail the flick by any means, especially since the performances are solid (Fiennes is good, but Firth hams it up a bit too much as Pontius Pilate), and the tech credits are good across the board. It's just that just when things were starting to get interesting from a character perspective in terms of having every part of the protagonist being shaken and then rearranged, the film goes somewhat flat, loses much of its forward momentum, and seems to simply go through the expected paces rather than evolve into a fascinating character study and cinematic experience.

I don't know if that's due to some or all involved worrying about rocking the boat, if you will, by already having too much fictional material in the Biblical story and thus feeling the need to draw everything back into a more comfortable and familiar realm.

Whatever the reason, the end result is that the second half of "Risen" isn't as good as the first. Until then, however, it's interesting watching the combo of bits and elements from The Bible, "X-Files" and "Logan's Run" come together in an unlikely cinematic platter. The film rates as a 5.5 out of 10.

Reviewed January 28, 2016 / Posted February 19, 2016

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