It's notoriously difficult to convey scripture convincingly in film without losing out either on the faith content or on the human and dramatic front. Do you want rounded, believable characters, in which case how do you make their faith convincing to a modern audience? Or do you want the faith element to be played straight down the line, in which case the characters are likely to come across as wild-eyed zealots or cardboard cut-outs.
Kevin Reynolds' Risen has a spirited go at offering a resurrection narrative that could appeal to both believers and non-believers, and the first half of his CSI-style detective mystery, with Joseph Fiennes' Roman tribune Clavius searching frantically for the missing body of Jesus, is a clever try. It offers dramatic tension and psychological realism as well an interesting insight into how the dawn of Christianity might have looked to some of its pagan witnesses. Clavius is convincingly focused in his search and in his determination that this is some sort of hoax. He is equally convincing in his gathering bewilderment as rational answers fail him. What is less helpful is the mad hilarity of Stephen Hagan's Bartholomew, giggling with born-again enthusiasm and striking Clavius (and probably many of the cinema audience) with weary cynicism. Clavius is shattered by his meeting with the risen Jesus, but a Roman soldier going on the run with Jewish disciples of an executed rabbi is unconvincing on both sides and the disciples fail to convey the tension and drama that their new-found faith must surely have engendered at some level within them.
'What are you afraid of?', asks Jesus, when at last they meet. 'Of being wrong', Clavius replies. But that is the dilemma that faces all people of faith and in the end this is where the film falters, both dramatically and theologically. It is strongest when faith is not at issue. When it is, it's as if the script writer and director no longer know where to take us. No one has entirely resolved the problem of how to convey the death and resurrection of Christ in film without it failing either at a human/dramatic or at a religious level. Risen is a commendable and ultimately watchable attempt, but Clavius fails to come to any persuasive conclusion and so, in the end, does the film.
For further information see: www.risen.damarismedia.com
See also Kristina Cooper's article: www.indcatholicnews.com/news.php?viewStory=29468