One of the biggest stars attending this year's Ed Film Fest was Ewan McGregor, here to promote his latest film, the powerful and thought-provoking biblical drama Last Days in the Desert. Here's my review.

Coming to the end of his 40 day pilgrimage of fasting and praying, Jesus (Ewan McGregor) stumbles across a family during his departure of the Judaen Desert. With the mother (Ayelet Zurer) ill and dying, the son (Tye Sheridan) longing to leave the desert and see the world for himself and the father (Ciarán Hinds) who only envisions a future for the boy in the bland, desert - even building him a house in the nearby cliff-top - there is distraught amongst the family. 

Not overstaying his welcome, Jesus initially leaves the family to their own devices. However, is lured back when Satan (also played by McGregor) bets that the 'holy man' cannot resolve everyone's problems. Returning to help, he begins to develop a love for the family and intervenes in their fate by trying to help them come together and be happy.

I'll be honest, biblical based films have never exactly piqued my interest. They're movies that I tend to dismiss, due to their tedious and lacklustre methods. Going into Last Days in the Desert, I was expecting much of the same - another long, boring, bland effort to bring a biblical tale to the big screen. However, this is not one of those films. What Last Days is, is a power piece. It's a film with a real sense of poignancy... and one that *surprisingly* I actually enjoyed, quite a lot.

It's more so an arthouse film than anything else; a piece that showcases some of the real beauty of film. But its more than just a biblical drama. At the core, this is really just a film about the relationship between a father and his son. The imagined chapter from Jesus' forty days in the desert is but a mcguffin for the true heart of the film; a father and his son and the Father and the Son. We never reference McGregor as anything but the 'holy man' either, making the device more conceivable.

The first act of the picture shows McGregor's fasting and trying to navigate the deserts. It's about 15 minutes in when we're finally introduced to another character. It's slow-paced, as is this entire film. But, it's no less intriguing than the other hour and a half and just shows that director Rodrigo García knows what he's doing. Everything is so precise and García takes his time exploring these characters and this landscape and unravelling the premise; captivating through slow, intimate dramatic scenes. There's a real sense of austerity and grandiose class to the proceedings.
The writing is just as compelling and the characters are so well-written, the dialogue between them sparse but interesting. Last Days in the Desert is, by far, one of the most intriguing character studies of Jesus we've seen put to film before. García respects the source material but never to a point that feels like preach or controversy. We see a more real version of Jesus too here, angry and human but humble nevertheless. The interaction between him and Sheridan and Hinds make for some truly engrossing viewing and a take on the iconic figure that's just as much so too. It's dramatic too and thought provoking.

Matching García's ravishing writing, the performances elevate the proceedings further. Everyone is on phenomenal form here. Hinds is used to a background of films in a similar vein to Last Days and he just fits into the time period too. Sheridan shines too, putting just as much effort and emotion into his role as the son as his role in another Ed Film Fest film, last year's brilliant Joe. The intensity in the performances is unparalleled and you really believe their father/son bond and invest into the difficult relationship between the pair.

Of course, McGregor is a marvel to watch also. His performance as the Messiah is one of the best performances of his career. He's somewhat of a revelation in the role, really inhibiting ot only the skin but the mindset and emotion of Jesus. You believe him as the figure and empathise with his character. He also makes a great Satan too: intimidating and woeful. The dual personalities contrast nicely and it's almost as if it's two different actors playing the roles.

The cinematography in this movie is some of the best cinematography this year. The acclaimed Birdman cinematographer Emmanuel Kubezki has done yet another remarkable job. The shots in this are undeniably beautiful.  From breathtaking tracking shots of the land to awe-inspiring heights, the film looks gorgeous. It also feels like it's a Judaen Desert too; the cold, busy U.S streets transformed into a prestigious and magnetic backdrop.

Last Days is a fresh, unique film that carries all the key elements of some truly wonderful filmmaking; astounding performances to great writing, a great script, some resonating drama and emotion amd more. Slipping up as we reach the third act, the project just gets so bogged down on unncessary exposition that we get a rushed, out-of-place epilogue to conclude the film, that just doesn't work and ruins the intrigue and intensity of the flick. There are one or two individual scenes dotted around the place where the film can drag on a little and get a bit weird too but it's just a minor nitpick in what is, otherwise, a good, dramatic biblical film.

VERDICT:
Profound and thought-provoking, Last Days in the Desert is a power piece. Unique and beautifully crafted, it makes for a fine contribution to cinema and showcases the true art of film.

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About the Author

Awais Irfan
Founder of Oasis Awais, and avid lover of life, Awais Irfan's love of writing and film is unequivocal. Ever since he was a little kid, he has loved the cinematic experience; so much so, he is studying Film Production in Glasgow and hopes to be the next "big thing" in directing.

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