Not rated, but there is sick people and talk of death
Written and directed by Rodrigo Garcia
Starring Ewan McGregor, Ciaran Hinds, Tye Sheridan and more
As usual, the devil gets all the best lines.
Unfortunately, he’s barely allowed to talk in “Last Days in the Desert,” Rodrigo Garcia’s movie about the 40 days Jesus spent in the desert (though the script does a remarkable amount of dancing around the whole “Son of God” thing). Even Jesus, also played by Ewan McGregor, barely seems to get any dialogue, which means that the majority of the movie features people grimacing and staring off into the distance in silence. After about 10 minutes of this, I started checking my watch every few minutes in a vain effort to make the time go by faster.
Which is tragic, because there are a few fleeting moments of grace and tenderness that allow you to see what the cast and crew were trying to do. Tye Sheridan brings some much-needed animation to the movie as the unnamed son, though Garcia only forces him to belabor the same metaphorical point throughout much of the movie.
Ciaran Hinds has a lovely, rough tenderness as the boy’s father, and McGregor manages to bring a surprising amount of humanity to even the devil. His Jesus is almost as good, his basic goodness and compassion for others shining through just as much as his completely understandable uncertainty.
But oh, if only they were given something even mildly interesting to do. Watching the devil argue with and tempt Jesus could have been a fascinating physiological drama, but instead McGregor’s Jesus is mostly forced to stare off into the distance and say solemn things that are supposed to sound profound.
Everyone is forced to do that, actually, all of them carefully positioned and each line so obviously framed by silence that it became a living embodiment of all of the clichés of independent film. The movie veers so closely towards becoming a flat-out parody of those clichés that I half expected Death himself to pop out of the shadows and challenge someone to a game of chess, a situation that would have made the movie vastly more interesting as a whole.