The new faith-based pic — “Risen” — is billed as the epic Biblical story of the Resurrection, as told through the eyes of a non-believer. If the film’s first weekend at the box office is any indication, it will also confound modern-day skeptics after landing up at No. 3 for the weekend, grossing $11.8 million on 2,915 screens nationwide.
“Risen” follows the journey of Clavius (Joseph Fiennes, “Shakespeare in Love”), a powerful Roman Military Tribune and his aide Lucius (Tom Felton of the Harry Potter series), who are tasked with solving the mystery of what happened to Jesus in the weeks following the crucifixion, in order to disprove the rumors of a risen Messiah and prevent an uprising in Jerusalem.
Dozens of faith films have come and gone since Mel Gibson’s box office phenomenon, “The Passion of the Christ,” a dozen years ago. A few of them were quite good, but most didn’t measure up. Last year the television miniseries A.D. wandered down the same path as “Risen,” but cast too broad a net for most viewers with violent and terribly unfocused script.
“Risen” — which opened Friday — picks up the story of Christ’s Passion on Good Friday after Pontius Pilate orders Clavius and Lucius to secure Jesus’ tomb after rumors that the Lord’s followers may steal His body.
The story takes a predicable twist on Sunday morning when Clavius receives a report that the body is gone. The rest of the story might well be called “CSI: Jerusalem” as the duo leaves no stone unturned (literally, as they dig up fresh graves) in pursuit of a body that might resemble that of Jesus.
As Clavius tracks down leads, he’s confronted with more questions — uncomfortable questions. His focus is to shut down the alleged rumors, but his passion for the truth feeds his quest to get to the bottom of what happened to Christ’s body. Without giving away too much, Clavius’ pursuit ends when he comes face-to-face with Jesus Himself — rightly called Yeshua in the film. But thankfully that’s not where the story ends.
While the film is extra-biblical — imaging events that may have happened during the biblical narrative — it doesn’t take liberties with scripture like 2014’s “Noah and Exodus: Gods and Kings.”
In “Risen,” Christ’s followers — particularly the apostles — are flawed men with doubts and fears like one would expect. Filmmakers really do get the bible right here. Both Christian and secular reviewers (for the most part) agree that the script rings true to the traditional telling of the story from Christ’s Passion to His Resurrection.
“Risen” is a triumph on every level. The story is compelling — something that’s been sorely lacking in bigger-budget faith films — told from Clavius’ perspective. The action sequences are often brutal and ring closer to reality than all of the box office stinkers that have tried and fallen short.
Filmed in Malta and Spain, the film’s production values are phenomenal. Director Kevin Reynolds (“Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves,” “The Count of Monte Cristo”) draws remarkable performances from a talented pool of actors. Christian faithful have waited more than a decade for a movie about Christ that rings true. The wait is over.
This is the best film about the life of Jesus since “The Passion of the Christ.” Hands down.
However, the real tale will be told in what kind of legacy “Risen” will have long term and in the short-term at the box office. After a strong showing its first weekend, it could falter and finish its run before Easter — March 27 — or it could pick up steam and rake in upwards of $100 million worldwide.
Thankfully, I’m not among the film’s skeptics.