Risen is a hard-boiled biblical mystery movie
Starring Joseph Fiennes. Rated PG.
Set against the backdrop of an old-school biblical epic, Risen attempts to blend the story of Christ’s resurrection with familiar elements of film noir and the modern-day police procedural. It helps to imagine a cross between Spartacus and Chinatown. Or, better yet, a toga-draped CSI.
Director Kevin Reynolds—who some may say is still being punished for the sin of giving us Waterworld—puts an initially refreshing spin on a very old story. We know we’re in for something vaguely hard-boiled when a Judean innkeeper utters the first line of dialogue in the Brooklyn twang of a 1940s bartender. Addressing the distracted Clavius (Joseph Fiennes), he makes small talk with: “Roman, huh?”
Such clipped dialogue is juxtaposed with heavily embroidered lines that stop just short of “Who madeth this sandal print?” But intermittent jolts of tough talk prove to be a perfect match for the world-weary Clavius. A Roman soldier turned investigator, he’s plagued by the classic doubts of the eternal gumshoe.
As we discover in flashback, he’s been given a special assignment by an increasingly agitated Pontius Pilate (Peter Firth). The postcrucifixion body of Jesus (Cliff Curtis) has disappeared from a sealed tomb. Clavius has been charged with solving the mystery.
The case baffles him. He keeps interrogating people—like Mary Magdalene (Maria Botto)—who feed him ethereal answers with dreamy looks in their eyes. After a while, Clavius begins to chip away at his own hardened beliefs, prepping him for the catharsis of a spiritual lost weekend that no flagon of wine or Roman bath can wash away.
Although the cast comes across as admirably restrained, we inevitably get bogged down in the usual Sunday-school clichés. Ultimately, Risen’s attempt to dress up the genre by giving us the Greatest Detective Story Ever Told simply tosses in a few more from a different direction.