Release Date(s)2016 (May 24, 2016)
Studio(s)Columbia Pictures (Sony Pictures Home Entertainment)
- Film/Program Grade: B
- Video Grade: A
- Audio Grade: A
- Extras Grade: B+
In spite of some sizable commercial successes (most notably Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves and television’s Hatfields and McCoys) and artistic triumphs (The Beast), director Kevin Reynolds remains a somewhat underrated director, a skilled practitioner of thinking man’s action whose gifts are subtle but significant. His mastery of technique is particularly evident on his latest film, Risen, in which he and writer Paul Aiello manage to sustain a surprisingly consistent level of tension even though it’s a story most viewers will know going in. That story, of Jesus Christ’s resurrection, gets a new spin in Reynolds and Aiello’s hands, as they focus less on Jesus or his apostles than on a fictional nemesis of sorts: Clavius (Joseph Fiennes), a Roman soldier who oversees the crucifixion and then is assigned the task of finding Christ’s body when it disappears from its tomb. By linking their story to Clavius’s point of view, Reynolds and Aiello accomplish two things: they provide an identification figure for audience members outside of the faith-based demographic, and they set up a framework for a film that is less biblical epic than detailed procedural.
Indeed, the best sequences in Risen are those that focus on the specific ways in which Clavius and the other characters live and work; the film is exquisitely designed, and uses its Maltese and Spanish locations to great effect to give a tactile sense of life at the time of Christ. In its first half, the film achieves the effects of a great detective story, as Clavius takes on what is essentially a missing persons case with all the focus and intensity of a modern day TV cop – the filmmakers do a terrific job of showing, step by step, how and why Clavius solves his mystery. Unfortunately, once Clavius finds Jesus (Cliff Curtis), the movie does lose a little of its urgency – the second half of the film, in which Clavius switches sides to walk the desert with Christ and his apostles, is beautifully shot but dramatically flaccid, lacking the immediacy of the excellent first half. Nevertheless, if Risen falls short of greatness, it’s nevertheless a highly original take on the Christ story that essentially begins where most cinematic treatments of the material end.
Screenwriter Aiello and his brother Patrick, a producer on the film, discuss this approach and a number of other interesting issues relating to both content and production on their fine commentary track that accompanies the film. There are also four featurettes totaling a half-hour that provide further insight, and the disc contains about five minutes of deleted scenes. The transfer is strong, with sharp detail that reveals just how meticulous the historical production design really is and consistent black levels and flesh tones. The 5.1 mix is excellent, with a well balanced juxtaposition of dialogue, music, and sound design and some effective but unobtrusive surround effects. All in all this is a fine package devoted to a solid film, a movie that never quite achieves truly inspired heights but remains a thoughtful, original take on a familiar subject.
- Jim Hemphill