The 400-Word-Review: Risen
By Sean Collier
February 25, 2016

That's right. I'm avenging my brother, Voldemort.

Films in the newly-minted subgenre of faith-based movies aren’t shown to critics too often. It’s hard to criticize that decision; the audiences for these pictures, many rallied at a grassroots level via local houses of worship, are built-in and fairly captive (there are only so many such releases in a given year). Why bother exposing a movie to critical review if the target audience already has their tickets in hand?

So when a movie targeting the Christian audience does receive an advance screening, my assumption is that it’s good enough (or at least different enough) to warrant the risk. And Risen, a Biblical-era epic from director Kevin Reynolds, is certainly different. Marketed in some quarters as a post-Passion of the Christ version of “CSI,” it carries neither the tenor nor the modern commentary of several recent faith-based hits.

Clavius (Joseph Fiennes), a Roman Centurion, is sent to check on the crucifixion of a Jewish cult leader named Jesus (Cliff Curtis). He’s surprised at the fervor among the crowd and arranges for Jesus’ death to come about more quickly than crucifixion often allows. When the body disappears a few days later, Pontius Pilate (Peter Firth) sends Clavius to track it down; he believes that Jesus’ followers have stolen it and intend to claim their leader was resurrected.

The following investigation is watchable, bordering on compelling. With a young sidekick (Tom Felton) in tow, Clavius tracks down leads and inspects evidence; for a while, it operates precisely as a procedural, which is interesting to watch during the height of the Roman Empire.

When Clavius begins integrating with Jesus’ disciples, however, the film lags. Its script, by Reynolds and Paul Aiello, isn’t quite up to snuff, and the loss of the investigative drive sends much of the film’s movement packing.

Fiennes is quite good, even if Felton — still struggling to find his way after the conclusion of the “Harry Potter” franchise — can’t keep up. (A few bit players go way over-the-top.) And there’s just barely enough sword-and-sandals drama to keep things lively. But “Risen” doesn’t have the courage of its convictions to keep the story away from a straight Bible retelling; had it gone all the way with the focus on Clavius’ investigation, there might be something more notable here. As it is, it’s not quite a bad film, but not one that is likely to reach beyond its target audience.

My Rating: 5/10

Sean Collier is the Associate Editor of Pittsburgh Magazine and a member of the Broadcast Film Critics Association. Read more from Sean at