Director: Kevin Reynolds
Stars: Joseph Fiennes, Tom Felton
2 (out of 5) Globes
God movies are for the godly, but “Risen” pulls off a neat trick: It pretends it’s not one of them. That winds up being a lie worthy of Peter himself, but for a good while it’s not another of those pious films that periodically slip into multiplexes, catering to the admittedly unrepresented devout populace. It’s a renegade Jesus movie, right down to the fact that it never once uses the name “Jesus.” He’s called Yeshua, or sometimes just “The Nazarene,” which is more historically on-point. Even better, he’s played by Maorian character actor Cliff Curtis, not the usual Aryan J.C., like the blank Portuguese model who lorded over “Son of God,” otherwise known as “The Hot Jesus Movie.”
But Yeshua’s not the hero of “Risen,” and nor are his hepped-up and persecuted disciples. Instead it’s a doubting Thomas — not the Doubting Thomas, but Joseph Fiennes’ Clavius, a cynical centurion destined for a flip-flop. A tardy, unofficial, hard-PG-13 sequel to the hard-R “The Passion of the Christ,” it picks up mid-crucifixion to tell what came after The Greatest Story Ever Told. What follows isn’t even the 1,000,000th Greatest Story Ever Told, but it has a unique entrypoint into a tale told time and again. That's not just because its protagonist is a non-believer. Clavius is just a guy who happened to be there during a sudden, possibly divinely-engineered earthquake, followed soon by a mysteriously vanished corpse. He’s of the wrong faith, but the movie — for its first half — is more interested that he’s on the wrong side of history.
This is the 1953 epic “The Robe” all over again, but it still dwells on the stuff most Jesus movies never show. Director Kevin Reynolds — the disgraced auteur of “Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves” and “Waterworld” — limply plods through the usual drama (an effete Pontius Pilate brooding, vaguely anti-Semitic portrayals of Jewish high priest Caiaphas meddling). But it keeps finding interesting stuff on the sidelines. Reynolds' cameras mostly ignore the suffering savior, dwelling instead on the practical side of things, like how you take down a cross after the deed is done and the stink of rotting bodies in mass graves. There’s a heated discussion about whether to burn Yeshua’s body along with the rest, and the search to find out who rolled that stone away from that grave — in front of boozing guards — becomes a full-on investigation that plays like a detective show with sandals.