I typically stay away from inspirational Christian or so-called “faith-based” movies, but director/writer Kevin Reynolds’ ‘Risen’ piqued my interest because it’s advertised as a historical epic told from the viewpoint of a Roman soldier as he undertakes the assignment to investigate the mysterious case of “The disappearance of Yeshua's (Jesus’) body “after it was sealed in the tomb. Telling a well-known biblical story from the unique perspective of a disbeliever? What heresy!
Joseph Fiennes is Clavius, a Roman Tribune and seasoned campaign veteran in Roman-controlled Judea circa 33 AD who served bravely and honorably for the glory of the Empire over 25 years. At the beginning of the movie we see him rallying and leading outnumbered legionaries softened by years of garrison duty in classic “tortoise” formation, marching inexorably up a hill through a withering hail of rocks and javelins hurled by Jewish rebels from above who dared to defy the authority of Rome before crushing them in brutal fashion and putting their defiant leader to the gladius with the eminently quotable line "tell Yahweh you are coming courtesy of Mars." Clavius was then sent by prefect Pontius Pilate (Peter Firth) to check on Yeshua (Cliff Curtis), who had been hanging on the cross for a day and to hasten His demise if He’s still stubbornly clinging to life. Ever the dutiful soldier, Clavius ordered a spear through the heart and verified Yeshua's death before seeing to the internment of the body, but all hell breaks loose the next day when the body disappeared and his troubles begin.
Other than the shift in POV, ‘Risen’ is a pretty straightforward redemption story and offers little in the way of surprises or twists, but deviating from The Word is not the goal here and we must keep in mind that this movie has built-in limitations and expectations that must be met. This is why we’re little surprised as Clavius initially approaches his investigation with the skepticism of a true pagan disbeliever, then as he continually fails to reconcile his polytheistic worldview with what he actually sees with his own eyes, he becomes increasingly drawn to the miraculously resurrected and magnetic Yeshua and His band of fishermen disciples.