'Last Days in the Desert' starring Ewan McGregor as Jesus and the devil gets thumbs up from critics

(Photo: Division Films)

In recent years, the Bible became fertile ground for material when Hollywood studios decided to do their own interpretation of epic tales of Noah and Exodus. While both movies had Oscar winners playing lead roles, they often had a polarising effect on critics who reviewed the movies.

Rodrigo Garcia's Last Days in the Desert, a low budget film starring Ewan MacGregor may well have the answer to winning over both critics and filmgoers alike as it received rave reviews after its screening at the Sundance Festival.

In Last Days in the Desert, MacGregor is given the unique task of playing the role of both Jesus - called Yeshua in the movie - and the Devil in story of the Temptation of Christ during his 40 days of fasting and prayer in the desert.

ScreenDaily described the film as " a powerfully meditative experience that grapples with themes of faith, destiny, death, and fathers and sons, 'Last Days In The Desert' possesses the attributes that have been the hallmark of writer-director Rodrigo García's best films: It's emotionally uncluttered while being narratively ambitious."

Variety also praised the cinematography work done by Emmanuel Lubezki, who also worked on Birdman: "Momentarily putting aside the bravura long takes of 'Gravity' and 'Birdman,' Lubezki works his usual miracles with natural light and landscape (Southern California's stark Anza-Borrego Desert State Park stands in for Israel), lending his majestic widescreen compositions an almost sculpted appearance; the sun itself could be positioning itself according to Lubezki's exacting instructions."

Ewan McGregor, who is a decade older than Jesus was when he meditated in the desert, received positive feedback from reviewers at The Hollywood Reporter, in comparison to his predecessors who played the part of Christ: "McGregor (the latest in a line of cinematic blue-eyed Jesuses) impressively handles the role of this solitary seeker; he's entirely credible as a man who's grave, searching and a tad bewildered at not having found the help he expected, but he's neither overbearingly brooding nor excessively humble. He's still looking for the answers."

In an article posted on Patheos.com, director Rodrigo Garcia, who is the son of Nobel winner Gabriel Garcia Marquez, said: "In a way, I thought of this movie as the adolescence of Jesus. Of course he's already 30 in my story, three years out from being crucified. But I always thought of it as an adolescence. He went out to the desert looking for something. He got things but not everything that he needed. And for me, it was almost as if he wanted to spend time with God, he had to spend time with people. That's what was missing in his journey. A little human messiness."

He also shared in an interview with Christianity Today that his inspiration in writing and directing the film was influenced by his upbringing as a devout Catholic.

He described the story of Jesus in the Desert as only a small portion of the Bible. "Rather than tell you a whole world, they sort of immerse you in it very quickly and introduce whatever conflicts are there—some said and some unsaid. And then you come out of it more with a feeling of having been somewhere, than with that clarity that everything was wrapped up," he said, adding that he was as surprised as everyone when he managed to create a film about a story in the Bible.

"I am as surprised as anyone else. I don't know what organ in my body it came from. It just came out of me."