By Tim McEown

Mailed on February 27, 2016

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Dear Affirm Films
Production Studio

Dear Affirm,

You are, bluntly put, a tool of Satan. Or the production arm of Sony studios dedicated to producing Christian evangelical films like Faith Like Potatoes, Heaven is Real, Kirk Cameron’s magnum opus Fireproof—and now the Kevin Reynold’s helmed Risen.

So, a tool of Satan. And Sony. But let’s face it, these days they are pretty much indistinguishable.

The problem with these films is not that they are Christian themed, it is that they are terrible. And they are terrible for a fundamental (heh) reason. It is almost impossible to square the circle of revealed truth and interesting filmmaking. You have to be remarkably adept as a filmmaker to produce a film whose ending everyone already knows (see: Spotlight). And Kevin Reynolds—he of Waterworld and Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves—is not that adept.

That this particular film echoes the ersatz biblical epic at the centre of the Coens’ latest Hail Caesar! (there is almost a shot for shot sequence involving the first reveal of Christ as something more than a simple carpenter) doesn’t help either. The real problem is that the film is—from the very first frame—inexorably pointed in one direction. And the only way to make that uni-directional narrative structure engaging for an audience is to create some tension around the why of it. Why is this inevitable, why can this be no other way? And that can’t happen, since to answer that question requires the filmmakers to literally know the mind of God.

Which, you have to admit, is a pretty big ask of any piece of art.

What Risen does instead—rather than trying to come to grips with these big questions—is to introduce Joseph Fiennes as the Roman Centurion Clavius. A simple soldier charged with keeping order in Jerusalem in and around the year 33AD, Clavius returns from a hard day fighting the Peoples’ Front of Judea (or was it The Judean’s Peoples Front? I can never get those straight) to find Peter Firth’s Pontius Pilate all atwitter because he had to crucify some pesky messiah. This leads to a watered down CSI-like plot contrivance where Clavius tries to make sure that this Christ fellow isn’t more trouble dead than alive.

But, too late, he realizes that he is dealing with forces beyond his control—in this case the creator of the entirety of space-time. So the film pivots and becomes a journey to spiritual awakening for this bereft Centurion as he follows Jesus and his disciples to Galilee—with the fishing, and the ascension and whatnot.

Look, Affirm Films (even that title is vaguely cloying in its ostensible cleverness) I don’t give  a rat’s ass what you think is commercially viable or even what drives you to produce films in the first place. As an atheist I have very little interest in your particular worldview. But if you give me a movie that actually tries to come to grips with the animating reasons for faith, or how, in the face of all the evidence to the contrary, smart people still find a way to believe in the ineffable, I will watch the shit out of that. But no one is interested in your just-so stories that reveal nothing but the tautological nature of your specific beliefs, other than adherents of your particular interpretation of the Godhead.



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