Now Featured in the Patheos Movie Club
From Columbia Pictures
A Liddell Entertainment and Patrick Aiello production
Directed by Kevin Reynolds
The biblical account of Yeshua's crucifixion and resurrection has been portrayed on the big screen many times, so when LD Entertainment approached Kevin Reynolds to make a movie about the world-changing events of 2,000 years ago, the writer-director was determined to bring a fresh approach to the story. In contrast to previous versions, including Cecil B. DeMille's 1927 silent film The King of Kings, 1965 blockbuster The Greatest Story Ever Told and Mel Gibson's 2004 The Passion of the Christ, Reynolds imagined the narrative told though the skeptical eyes of a non-believer.
"We wanted to do something completely different from what had come before, so I came up with the idea that Risen would be told as a detective story," he says.
Reynolds, who previously directed the blockbuster action film Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves and produced the Emmy®-nominated miniseries Hatfields & McCoys, is no stranger to iconic sagas. "We wanted the film to feel big and epic, but seen from a single character's perspective," he explains.
The concept clicked with producer and LD founder Mickey Liddell, who cycled through numerous scripts and directors after launching the project eight years ago. "I loved Kevin's idea that our audience would be able to experience something ancient and sacred as if it were brand new," Liddell says. "Kevin's approach gives you the opportunity to put yourself in the shoes of Clavius, this skeptical Roman soldier who's really confused about all these crazy things that are going on in Judea. He's not searching for Christ's body to further his political or religious agenda; he's just following orders."
The Skeptical Detective
At the center of the film is Joseph Fiennes as Clavius. The versatile British actor, whose résumé ranges from Oscar® Best Picture-winner Shakespeare in Love to hit TV miniseries Hercules, immediately appreciated Reynolds' approach to New Testament storytelling. "When I read the script, I marveled at the fact that I'd just digested a biblical story that came across as an extraordinary murder mystery," says Fiennes. "The script kept me turning the pages without me really knowing how it would end, because when you see it through this fresh set of eyes, Yeshua's resurrection really is the mother of all murder mysteries."
The prospect of portraying Clavius' dramatic transformation over the course of three momentous days proved irresistible to Fiennes. "When we first meet Clavius at the beginning of the film, he's this rigorous, ambitious military man who's spent 25 years serving the Roman army, so he's really entrenched in one form of thinking," the actor notes. "Then, through this series of adventures, Clavius arrives at a crossroad where he realizes there might be a life beyond everything he knew before, something outside of his previous conditioning. Having put this supposed Messiah out of his misery, Clavius comes face to face with Yeshua again at the end of the film when he's resurrected, and that's a big turning point."
Director Reynolds saw Fiennes as the perfect choice to portray Clavius. "Joseph has a physical presence but he also has a vulnerability that the character requires," says Reynolds. "He goes from being this brutally effective Roman tribune—a soldier's soldier—to a guy who questions his own beliefs and spirituality. Joseph has the sort of range where he could manifest all those things."
Fiennes spent time with a police detective to learn interrogation techniques. "My real way into Clavius came from sitting down with a detective and talking about what it's like to question suspects," Fiennes recalls. "Although this is a biblical story, I wanted to be pragmatic about what Clavius needs to do, because I really do see the piece as a noir detective story."
The central mystery in Risen of course revolves around the miraculous comings and goings of Yeshua. He is portrayed by veteran actor Cliff Curtis, who had worked previously with Reynolds in the 1994 Easter Island picture Rapa Nui. "When producer Patrick Aiello suggested Cliff, I immediately sparked to the idea because I know how intense and versatile he can be," says the director. "Cliff comes from the Robert De Niro school of method acting, so part of his process in Risen was to not talk to anyone. By being silent on set, something built up inside Curtis that the Apostle characters really responded to and I think that comes across on screen."