Movie Review


By Jeff Laird

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Believe it or not, the fundamentals of the gospel even make an appearance. Under interrogation, followers of "the Nazarene" state their willingness to die. The reason, according to those under questioning, is that those who believe in Jesus are promised eternal life. This prompts Clavius's eye-rolling remark about recruiting.

The film's best moment, by far, comes at the turning point of the film. This marks the start of the film's final chapter. While the answer to Clavius' mystery is hardly a secret to the audience, the scene is both surprising and heart-stopping. In this sequence, a raid, Clavius is shattered when he stumbles across a detail he absolutely did not expect. Trust me, you'll know it when you see it. Risen takes a moment that everyone knew was coming and manages to make it dramatic and gripping — a major change in the plot's direction.

Another excellent moment is the point where Clavius finds one of the soldiers assigned to guard the tomb. He's drunk and hiding. When pressed to tell the truth, instead of the Sanhedrin's bought-and-paid-for story, the man offers an embarrassingly fantastic account. The guard's befuddled story, as well as Clavius's reaction, set up much of what's at stake for the rest of the film.

Those stakes become especially clear near the end when Clavius has a chance to have his many questions answered. In typical human fashion, when the moment arrives, he doesn't even know what to ask. And yet, for all his objectivity, he's afraid of "Being wrong, wagering eternity." The answer ties together all the loose ends Clavius' has been searching for, and not just those assigned by Pilate.

As PG-13 rated films go, Risen was fairly tame. There's no crass language, nudity, or sexuality. There is some moderate violence, mostly in the first twenty or so minutes. This features an extended battle scene, as well as the very end of the crucifixion. These moments are not gory, but there's little illusion about what's happening to bodies and body parts. Those sensitive to depictions of war and mayhem might find those early minutes hard to watch.

Risen is certainly not a perfect film, either factually or cinematically. The ending was surprisingly unsatisfying — not as abrupt as Inception, but many viewers will find themselves asking, "Yeah, but what about..." as the credits roll. Some character arcs, such as that of Clavius's assistant Lucius, seem a bit forced.

While nothing in the film was overtly contrary to Scripture (based on a single viewing), the plot is artistic license writ large. Also, at least to this reviewer, the role of women in the resurrection story seemed a bit glossed over. The film pegs Mary Magdalene as a former prostitute, which is a common, but technically non-scriptural assumption. And some of the Jewish religious leaders came across a bit too touchy-feely with Gentiles. In the Bible, Pharisees don't even want to enter a Gentile's home, but in Risen, they're making physical contact.

Then again, it's a movie. Not a Bible study.

As faith-based films go, Risen is a great addition. It's got the cinematic chops to stand on its own merits, and is remarkably respectful to the Scriptures. For those interested in having a fact-based, no-frills conversation about the evidence for the resurrection, it's a great conversation starter. People who prefer a dumbed-down, holier-than-thou, condescending, or dismissive approach are going to be disappointed.

Christians looking for a film that's both informative, entertaining, and faith-friendly are going to be very happy, indeed. Risen is one of the highest-quality Bible-inspired films of recent memory. It's a touchstone for what "God" movies can and should be.

Investigating "eternal life," as it turns out, makes for more than great recruiting. It can inspire a really good film, as well.

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Published 2-22-16