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Review: Last Days in the Desert

Last Days in the Desert
6 10
This was previously reviewed as part of our Sundance 2015 coverage.  

PLOT: Towards the end of his forty-day exile in the desert, Jesus Christ (Ewan McGregor) finds himself locked in a battle of wits over the souls of a family of desert dwellers with the devil (also McGregor).

REVIEW: A film like LAST DAYS IN THE DESERT is a curious thing. Walking out of it, I had the impression that the film's reception will go one of two ways. Either it will totally sink into a kind of dignified obscurity or some enterprising distributor will pick it up, market it to a faith-based crowd, and make millions. Certainly, the latter seems possible. Most of us here covering Sundance walked in with the expectation that it would be controversial, but in the end it's a pretty conventional religious tale, unfolding in the shape of a parable where Jesus tries to save the endangered soul of a young man (Tye Sheridan) quarreling with his father (Ciaran Hinds).

The film unfolds at a very languid pace, with director Rodrigo Garcia adopting a Terrence Malick-style vibe. Certainly the technical credits are top notch, with the arresting visuals by master DP Emmanuel Lubezki and immersive Dolby Atmos mix, making this more of a theatrical experience than a small-screen one. Yet, for all of its technical sophistication, I was alternately bored and mesmerized. The boredom came from the fact that at ninety-eight minutes the movie runs at a snail's pace, but at the same time I was utterly floored by Ewan McGregor's dual performance.

It can't be easy playing Jesus and the Devil in the same movie, and the notion that Satan is but a reflection of ourselves is intriguing. As The Devil, McGregor wisely underplays the part, being not so much evil but more of an eternal trickster with both a grudging admiration and fiery rage for Jesus' courage and and conviction. The trickier role is obviously Jesus Christ, but in the part McGregor radiates kindness and wisdom, along with a sense of fear that he may not have the strength to take the path that he knows will lead to his brutal crucifixion.

McGregor really makes the movie, and even if the film is only so-so, it's one of the greatest performances he's ever given. The subtle moments of humanity he brings to the part, such his sly giggle at a character passing gas (that's right – there's a fart joke in a Jesus movie) that got snickers from the audience, are actually some of the best moments in the movie as they convey so much of the character's warmth. I can't claim to be especially religious, but certainly I was more moved by what McGregor does here than I was by anything in THE PASSION OF THE CHRIST.

Yet, outside of McGregor's performance LAST DAYS is unexceptional, with Tye Sheridan – a fine actor in his own right – seeming too contemporary as the prodigal son, although Hinds and Ayelet Zurer as his sickly mother are great. It'll be interesting to see how audiences – both Christian and non – react to this. McGregor is so good that he alone makes it a must-see, even if the film is pretty dull and unremarkable otherwise.

Source: JoBlo.com



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