"...When it ventures to connect the fictionalized plot with the actual Gospel accounts of the death and resurrection of Jesus it starts to bend the truth with the proposed narrative."
Ever since seeing the movie Ben Hur when I was a kid, I was fascinated with the idea of telling the stories behind the scenes in biblical times. It has driven my imaginations as I've read through the gospels and imagined what happened to some of the people Jesus healed and particularly what happened to Barabbas after he was released, what the backstory was for the repentant thief on the cross, and what became of the centurion who witnessed Jesus death and declared, "Truly this was the Son of God!" (Matthew 27:54 NKJV)
That is why I was excited to see this new film from Affirm Films, a Sony Company, which also produced the popular hit last year from the Kendrick Brothers called War Room. Risen follows a fictionalized story of a hardened Roman soldier who is commissioned by Pontius Pilate to oversee the death and burial of Jesus, and later the task of investigating the empty tomb.
These Christian based films have come a long way. Provided with a bigger budget and at least the chance to cast B-list actors, the added resources are obviously apparent with better acting, filming, makeup, costumes, and editing. Overall, it's a much easier story to get caught up in when the art surrounding it is less jarring and out of place.
I could go into great detail about the writing, acting, and cinematography from an artistic point of view, but within the Christian film market those are rarely what people are concerned about hearing. Instead I'll focus on the questions I assume you are asking to determine if Risen is worth your time and money.
1) Is it safe?
While not as gruesome and violent as Mel Gibson's The Passion of the Christ, this film is still not safe for children. Although it doesn't contain any sexually based content or vulgar language, it certainly doesn’t spare on gore and violence. Action sequences seem to be the main component of Risen, from the opening scene and all throughout the movie, even in places where it doesn’t make sense.
2) Is it accurate or true?
Risen is drawn from a fictionalized account of what might have been happening behind the scenes from the perspective of a Roman soldier tasked with investigating the resurrection of Jesus. So no, it's not true. Where it stays within that imaginary field it is fine. However, when it ventures to connect the fictionalized plot with the actual Gospel accounts of the death and resurrection of Jesus it starts to bend the truth with the proposed narrative.
The first two thirds of Risen are fine. It is towards the end of the movie that it starts to run out of momentum and material. Without a natural climax, the filmmakers are forced to add their own twist to the story.
This is a film that is made, based on my educated guess, by non-Christians for Christians. Let me explain. Risen was not backed by a Church or Christian organization. It was produced by Sony Pictures to tap into a growing Christian market. Which leads into the next question.
3) Is it evangelistic?
I don't think that feature films should not be used as an evangelistic tool. Even the best 'Christian' movies seem to fall short in proclaiming the gospel. They tend to either be overly preachy or too abstract to really lead anyone into a saving knowledge of Jesus Christ. But personal opinions aside, Risen doesn't even try to explain the plan of salvation.
It could be argued that this film is based in apologetics - defending the resurrection - but that doesn't seem to be the intent or the objective of Risen either. Instead, it is just a story about a Roman soldier wondering if there is life after death and torn between his cultural religion and the events he is witnessing.
Without giving you any spoilers about the plot, I have to conclude that the filmmakers have taken too many liberties. When Risen spends its time in the realm of possibilities with its fictionalized narrative it succeeds in being entertaining, but when it starts to intersect with Scripture it begins to fall apart. I wouldn't necessarily discourage you from going to see Risen, but I would want you to know that it is probably not going to meet up to your expectations.