The other day, Ace was talking about this movie, which I had heard of but which wasn’t really on my radar: Risen, A Tale of the Christ! It is the story of a Roman Centurion sent to investigate the disappearance of Jesus on Easter. I make no bones about being very sympathetic to Christianity and its goals (as I think any serious student of Western History must be)—and a good movie is a good movie, even if it does have God or Jesus or Religion in it.
So, with the critics snarking CSI: Jerusalem—which, frankly, would have been fine—The Boy and The Flower and I trundled off to see this latest critical anathema.
And, lo, it was good.
Well, we thought it was okay. It’s certainly better than its 53% Rotten Tomatoes critic score would have you believe, and maybe not quite as good as the 77% RT audience score. The Boy found fault with the editing and—although he swears this isn’t because he’s a bloody Roman sympathizer—the way the Romans were portrayed. Things were sloppy in Jerusalem according to this, and I pointed out that Jerusalem was where Rome sent the people it wanted to get rid of, but he wasn’t buying. The Flower had no strong feelings about it.
There is at least one distinctly great moment, where our hero is worshipping at shrine to Mars, but praying to Jesus and, in essence, trying to bribe him. Heh. It was a nice illustration of how differently the Romans (Greeks, Babylonians, Egyptians, etc.) worshipped from Christians or Jews.
Hey, this is going to be a little SPOILERY, if you care. But I can’t describe where I think it goes awry without revealing, you know, how it goes.
I liked it, but I thought they would’ve been better off going with Ace’s conception of it. Instead, I think they wanted to evangelize, and sacrificed the story for that. To elaborate: The first two acts concern Clavius (Joseph Fiennes, Strangerland, Shakespeare in Love), the world-weary Roman soldier assigned by Pontius Pilate (Peter Firth, Pearl Harbor, The Hunt For Red October) to protect the body of Jesus (so that original rabble-rousing Jews for Jesus don’t dig it up and pretend he came back to life), who has to discover what happened to the body when it inevitably turns up missing.
In Ace’s conception, Clavius would not find out The Truth until about the climax of the film. That means that the movie itself plays as a straight mystery with a religious hook.
Another effective way to play this would’ve been as a sort of anti-horror movie, I think. Clavius could’ve been the worst of the Roman Empire instead of the best. Make him a complete hedonist, a proto-Aquinas, if you will, highly intelligent, able to see wisdom, but so given to pleasures of the flesh as to reject it. Then the climactic moment is coming across Jesus alive, and the complete shifting of his entire worldview—which is pretty much what a lot of the best horror is, although in horror, the message is nihilistic rather than uplifiting.
Instead, what they do is have Jesus show up at the end of Act 2, and Act 3 is Clavius tagging along with the rest of the apostles for the post-resurrection shenanigans. The third act is not bad, in and of itself, mind you. It is a sensitive portrayal of the stories in the New Testament, with kiwi Cliff Curtis (The Whale Rider, Sunshine) in what may be the most challenging role in theater, Yeshua. Things like the fishes and the leper are kept vague, to leave room for doubting. (Thomas literally says, when asked, “We doubted Him at first.” I was the only one who LOLed.)
It’s just that the third act is a different movie. Our character arc is—has to be—Clavius’. He’s the one who has to come to God. He’s the one who has to deal with Pilate and his pal Lucius (Tom Felton, continuing to distance himself from his life in the Potter universe). But he doesn’t, really. He just leaves and chases Jesus all the way to Galilee. There’s just no way to get your mojo back once you’ve switched from action film to, essentially, philosophy.
Leastwise, they didn’t pull it off here.
Good performances, though maybe a little too low key from Fiennes. Good music. Worse movies will be lavishly praised (and have been in the past six months) for espousing dissolution.