Thursday, February 25, 2016

Risen Review

Just over two weeks ago, the movie Hail, Caesar! was released. The movie as a whole lacked a whole lot of substance, but I bring it up here because the premise centered around a group of filmmakers making a religious movie back in the 1950's that told the story of Christ from the prospective of a Roman soldier. Now in the same month as Hail, Caesar! we get an actual movie about the story of Christ told from the prospective of a Roman soldier. I find that to be a rather hilarious coincidence. What are the chances of two separate groups of people sitting down and both making a movie with this unique premise and releasing it in the same month? I love it! Moving on, Risen is the first of four major religious movies coming out around this Easter for Christian audiences to choose from and as a Christian I feel a special obligation to review these movies because other critics aren't the best judge of these types of movies, if you know what I mean. They almost always end up on the rotten side of the tomatometer, even if they are good movies. Take this one for example. It's currently rotten at 59 percent, but I'm going to recommend it because I thought it was pretty good!

When it comes to making a movie about the life of Christ these days, I do think it's important for a studio to go about things in a new or unique way simply because this is a story that has been told in movie form over and over ever since movies began to be made. I don't mean to say that studios should change the story completely by telling something that didn't happen. That's what the movie Noah did with the story of Noah in the Old Testament and it was a disaster. I'm just saying that if yet another movie about Christ is to be made, they need to bring something new or unique to the table. The life of Christ as told in the four Gospels is very rich and deep. There's a lot of information that can't all be told in an hour or two, which means that there are a lot of different angles or focuses that can be used while still being true to the story that happened. But if you make the exact same movie that has already been made a hundred times, it's a little redundant. This is one reason why I enjoyed Risen. It tells the exact same story that we all know, but does so in a unique way that feels fresh. How would an average Roman soldier react to these events? This is an intriguing premise that is pulled off in a very real, human way.

I should mention that this is not a spoiler review. I'm not going to reveal what happens. But at the same time, I will dive a little deeper into the story than I usually would simply because everyone knows the basic story of Christ's death and resurrection. Even if you're not a Christian, it should come as no shock to you that, spoiler alert, Christ gets killed. Then he rises again, meets with his apostles and disciples for a final time, and ascends to heaven. We all know that story. If you don't want my insights as to why I enjoyed this specific portrayal, then you are more than welcome to exit this review and go check it out on your own. That won't offend me. Just know that I enjoyed this and recommend it. If you are interested in my insights without having seen the movie, then lets continue. First off, this movie begins where most depictions of Christ leave off. The resurrection. That's what this movie is all about. One of the first scenes of the movie shows Christ dead on the cross. The Roman soldier that we follow (Clavius is his name) is given the charge to break the legs of the people on the cross to speed up the crucifixion process, which was a very common practice. When they get to Christ, they realize it's not necessary because he is already dead. Clavius then gets a good, long look at the Christ before moving on and that's our setup.

The whole point of this movie is the journey that Clavius goes on and it's a very interesting journey that is very relatable. I do get frustrated with Christian movies that paint everything as black and white, which is not the case with life. If it was, I'm in a lot of trouble because I've made a ton of mistakes that would put me on the black. There is a lot of gray area and I really liked this movie for showing that. The movie starts with Christ already dead, so we don't get to hear what he stated on the cross in this movie, but one statement that I've always been fascinated with is the following: "Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do." He's talking about the Roman soldiers there who really didn't know what they were doing. They crucified a lot of people in that time period, many for claiming to be the promised Messiah. This wasn't new to them. They really didn't realize what they were doing. Often it's easy to point at all the followers of Christ as "good" and everyone else as "evil." But is this actually fair? Is it possible that there were some believers that rebelled against what they were taught? Is it possible that there were some Roman soldiers who would've followed Christ had they been given the opportunity? Absolutely!

Ultimately, that's what this movie is about. Clavius is a good man. He just happens to be a Roman soldier. You could argue that some on the Roman side, like Pontius Pilate, had more of a knowledge of what was going on, yet allowed Christ to be crucified anyways. Clavius is not one of them. He's just following orders. "Go break the legs of the people that were just crucified." Okay. "Please let me have the body?" Okay. "The body is gone. Go find it!" Okay. That last one is a big focus for this movie. The idea of the resurrection was a very foreign idea, even to the followers of Christ. More on that in a bit. But how would the Romans react to this? They did their best to seal up the tomb and even put guards there to protect it. Yet the body is gone. Are they all going to actually believe that he rose? Probably not. It would be easy to steal the body and spread rumors that he rose as promised, especially when they find out that the guards got drunk. But even the guards' actual story would seem hokey. "Two angels showed up and rolled away the stone." "You were probably hallucinating." "You're probably right." Can't you just see a conversation like this happening? So now we start a manhunt for this body led by Draco Malfoy and Voldermort's brother (Tom Felton and Joseph Fiennes) and that is really interesting because this becomes a crime drama of sorts.

Speaking of those two, both of them did a great job in this movie, especially Joseph Fiennes, who plays Clavius. A lot of Christian movies have really cheesy acting that brings the movie down, especially our Kendrick Brothers movies, but this is the opposite. Joseph Fiennes makes this movie and his reactions to various events is very real and human. He's just trying to do his best to be a good Roman soldier, but then he sees things that are very contradictory for him. The movie could've taken the instant covert route and suddenly make him the ultimate hero, but it really doesn't. Instead he becomes very conflicted and confused. If you've grown up thinking one way and suddenly you see evidence that perhaps you may be wrong, you're usually not going to simply jump ship and throw away everything you've known. This was one of the most real stories of faith that I've seen recently. You can probably guess who he interacts with in the second half of the movie and I won't spoil how those interactions go, but I absolutely loved those conversations. And Tom Felton as co-lead in this movie was also great. He goes through a very different journey in this movie than Clavius, but I think this is the most human and relatable that Tom Felton has been. He's very good at playing the jerk in his movies, even with his post-Harry Potter career, but that's not really the case this time around.

And then we have the depictions of our classic New Testament events surrounding the crucifixion and resurrection. I have to say that this was all pretty great. Sure, there were a few odd little things here and there, like nails only in the wrists and not in the palms or Christ's final ascension looking like a bird exploded into the sun, but for the most part this felt very real and accurate. In this sense, I have to give praise to the set designs and costume designs for making this actually feel like 33 A.D. Jerusalem as well as the close attention paid to the historical details of the time. Most adaptations do fine in making you buy that you're back in that time period and even when they don't do great, you give them a pass and focus on the story they're telling. This really sold it, though. It really gave the feel that, despite a few little odd quirks, this is how things would've gone down. Along these lines, I also have to give praise to the look of Jesus himself. A lot of adaptations portray Jesus as this person who really sticks out like a sore thumb because he looks like an American living among the Jews and Hebrews. I have reason to believe that the actual Jesus blended in very well with the people around him and thus is why many people had a hard time believing him because he looked like one of them. Jesus in this movie definitely looked like Jesus, but he also blended in very well with the crowd, which I really appreciated.

Finally I have to give a lot of praise to the portrayal of the apostles in this movie. It's easy to look at the label of apostle and immediately assume that Jesus selected the 12 most spiritual and dedicated men of the that time period that were perfect from day one. That's how they're often portrayed. What is often overlooked is the fact that all of these men went through a lot of progression before they became the standout people that they are known for. Jesus' death was an especially trying time for them. These were still essentially brand new converts. After Jesus called them to be apostles, only three years had gone by before he died. Jesus warned them of his death and resurrection, but they really didn't fully comprehend what he meant until afterwards. Many doubted. Some denied him. Judas even betrayed him. These were imperfect men who felt lost right at his death, which is probably the big reason why Jesus came back to them. They needed more instruction. After he left the first time, they went back to fishing. Jesus came back to tell them to go feed his sheep. Go teach the people. The second half of this movie is all about the apostles and this is how they were portrayed and I loved it. Yes, Clavius fits in this, but I told you I wouldn't tell you how he does, so I will let you find out for yourself.

Will this go down in history as one of the best movies about the life of Christ? Maybe not. I don't know if this is going to be your movie tradition every Easter for the next 30 years. I will admit that there were times during the first half of the movie where I got a little bored. But we live in a day where faith-based films are on a huge high in Hollywood and when compared to this modern group of faith-based films, I honestly think that Risen is one better ones that has been made. This is not preachy. This doesn't portray things as black and white. It's not full of cheesy acting or poorly written dialogue. As a Christian, I do appreciate the good intentions of some of these studios, but as a critic of film I have to admit that a lot of them aren't that great. But this one is different. It's a well-made film that not only has an interesting premise, but has amazing execution, especially when it comes to the tone and feel of the movie as well as the acting. It's a great story of faith that I honestly appreciated. And it focuses on an aspect of Christ that doesn't get enough attention in my opinion. The resurrection. Most movies about Christ include the resurrection, but many times it's an afterthought or tacked on at the end. How many times do we get a movie that focuses solely on the resurrection? Exactly. That's what Risen is and I definitely recommend you seeing this Easter. I give Risen an 8/10.

No comments:

Post a Comment