Jerusalem, AD 33. Easter (although no-one knows that yet). When the body of Yeshua (Curtis) goes missing, Clavius (Fiennes) must find it before it’s claimed he’s been resurrected.
Biblical films are surprisingly big business. And they don’t necessarily need Mel Gibson to succeed — 2014’s Heaven Is For Real made $91 million in the US on a $12 million budget. If you haven’t heard of it, it’s because not all of them are released in the UK.
A New Testament-era mystery from the man who directed Robin Hood: Prince Of Thieves is an intriguing premise.
And so to Risen, a New Testament-era mystery from the man who directed Robin Hood: Prince Of Thieves and Waterworld — an intriguing premise, if not exactly one it’s easy to be entirely confident about. Initially pitched as an unofficial sequel to 2004’s The Passion Of The Christ, the story actually begins with Yeshua (you’ll know him better as Jesus) still on the cross, mid-crucifixion. He doesn’t last long, however — his heart pierced by a spear as an act of “mercy”, his body placed in a tomb protected by round-the-clock guards.
These guards are important for Jerusalem’s ruler, Pontius Pilate (Peter Firth) — he needs to quell rumours Yeshua is the Messiah. If the body is taken, it can’t be presented to the crowds as proof he hasn’t been resurrected. So when the body does disappear, his right-hand man Clavius (Joseph Fiennes) is under strict orders to find it and get it back fast, before it rots beyond all recognition and the story gains traction.
This is where the film is at its best. Clavius is a man plagued by his inept soldiers, disruptive locals and a continuity-defying cut on his lip, and his investigations around Jerusalem pitch him as a Biblical-era Columbo — we’re in on what’s really going on (Christ has risen), but he’s yet to discover the truth. And then he does, with about 40 minutes to go. And you (most likely) know the drill from here — apostles, Galilee, ascension to Heaven. There’s a decent action scene as the disciples try to avoid capture in the desert, but from hereon out it feels like a Christian TV channel’s Sunday matinée. And when was the last time you spent any time in the company of one of those?
It has its moments, but it blows the interesting premise — the resurrection of Jesus told as a mystery — too early for an overlong, overly religious finale.