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Family Movie Review: Risen (PG-13)

Risen ChesapeakeFamilyMovieReviewKernel Rating (out of 5): whole popcorn kernalwhole popcorn kernalwhole popcorn kernal

MPAA Rating: PG-13       Length: 107 minutes

Age Appropriate For: 13+. This faith-based film about a Roman soldier changing his mind about religion after witnessing Jesus’s resurrection includes a variety of Biblical violence, including some beatings, impalings, stabbings, crucifixion, battle violence and combat, as well as some drinking. The movie is mimicking the style of golden-age-of-Hollywood Biblical epics like “Ben-Hur,” so expect that same kind of point of view.

‘Risen’ is better than most faith-based films with a strong lead performance from Joseph Fiennes and an enjoyable-if-silly, “CSI”-like approach to the Christian resurrection story. This isn’t a film that will convert nonbelievers, but it’s more ambitious than the standard genre fare.

By Roxana Hadadi

Movies like “Ben-Hur” don’t really get made anymore — well, except for the remake of “Ben-Hur” actually slated for release later this year in August. But until then, Christian audiences can get by with “Risen,” a faith-based film that takes the old-school epic approach to telling the story of Jesus’s resurrection.

Amusingly enough, “Risen” is almost like the real-life version of the faux movie being made in “Hail, Caesar!” In the recent film from the Coen brothers, George Clooney stars as a Roman general who sees Jesus’s crucified body and questions the meaning of his existence, wondering if all of the violence and bloodshed has been for anything at all. And that’s pretty much the exact transformation undergone by Joseph Fiennes’s character Clavius in “Risen,” but without any of the tongue-in-cheek nature of “Hail, Caesar!” Instead, “Risen” lets things play out quite seriously, taking almost a crime-show approach to whether Jesus was “risen” after his death — think “CSI” or “Law and Order,” but set in Jerusalem hundreds of years ago.

The film begins with Clavius (Fiennes, of “Hercules”), a respected and powerful Roman Centurion (basically a professional soldier in charge of 100 men) who has spent practically all his life in battle defending the Roman empire. He brushes off whispers of a Jewish messiah, Yeshua (Cliff Curtis, of “Colombiana”), and when he’s tasked by Roman prefect Pontius Pilate (Peter Firth) with overseeing Yeshua’s crucifixion and burial, he has no qualms about presiding over a man’s killing.

But doubt and skepticism certainly spring to mind when the body of Yeshua, entombed in a cave blocked by a boulder marked with max, disappears. Now responsible for tracking down Yeshua’s body and quelling an uprising by the enslaved Jews, Clavius sets off breaking down doors, questioning believers, and trying to understand what has just happened. “You look for something you’ll never find,” says Mary Magdalene, but Clavius isn’t satisfied. How to answer this question logically? What if it can’t be done?

In some ways, “Risen” expectedly panders to the Christian audiences who will inevitably be watching the film: the miracles Yeshua performs are presented here in line with how they are described in the Bible, including a feast of fish for the starving and his curing of lepers, but in more interesting ways, the film veers in other directions. There’s an explanation floated for what could have happened to Yeshua’s body that has nothing to do with resurrection, and as the messiah, the non-white, ethnically diverse Curtis is welcome, refreshing casting. He’s not in the film for much screentime, wisely only present briefly for maximum impact, but his more-historically-accurate depiction is a thoughtful choice.

Unsurprisingly, “Risen” still has some of those familiar faith-based-film shortcomings, like presenting the Jews as manipulative and fickle (one even spits on Yeshua’s body) and mostly ignoring the role women had in Jesus’s followers and Roman society. Yet for the most part, “Risen” is an effectively made addition to the captured audience of this genre, providing a few twists to this story that are welcome and unexpected.

Interested in a previously released film? Read our reviews of films already showing in your local theater.

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