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Last Days in the Desert DVD Review

Last Days in the Desert (2016) movie poster Last Days in the Desert

Theatrical Release: May 13, 2016 / Running Time: 100 Minutes / Rating: PG-13

Writer/Director: Rodrigo García

Cast: Ewan McGregor (Yeshua/The Demon), Ciarán Hinds (The Father), Ayelet Zurer (The Mother), Tye Sheridan (The Boy), Susan Gray (Demonic Woman)

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Did Jesus Christ ever laugh at a fart? According to Last Days in the Desert,
the answer is yes. Anticipated years in advance, this drama starring Ewan McGregor as the Son of God (and also the Devil) barely made it to theaters last spring and now is on DVD practically looking like a direct-to-video release.

Slow and understated to an extreme, Last Days depicts the end stretch of the forty days and nights that Jesus spent fasting in the Judean desert after being baptized. Our first reaction to scenes void of dialogue may be that we're watching a middle-aged Obi-Wan Kenobi passing time on Tatooine. Though it feels like there might be less dialogue than a Terrence Malick film, we do eventually get some to establish that this is Jesus out in the wilderness of the world His Father made.

Jesus (Ewan McGregor) laughs at a boy's fart in "Last Days in the Desert."

When he is not being tested and taunted by the Devil (McGregor gets doubled à la The Parent Trap or the Winklevi), Jesus meets a family of three. There is a riddle-loving boy (Tye Sheridan) who longs to go to Jerusalem, his aging and emotionally distant father (Ciarán Hinds), and the father's significantly younger but sickly wife (Ayelet Zurer).

This family is the only human company Jesus has out here in the desert. They give him water and offer him food, but he maintains his fast.

Written and directed by Rodrigo García (Mother and Child and the creator of HBO's "In Treatment"), Last Days emphasizes Jesus' humanity. He laughs when that boy passes gas near a dog carcass and when the boy starts running around yelling out that he's not a bad son. He seems to give some thought to the boy's request to be adopted. And though the Dad calls him "Holy man", none of the three know just who they're dealing with and converse like he's just a fellow desert drifter.

Jesus' (Ewan McGregor) desert solitude is broken by a boy who loves riddles (Tye Sheridan) and a father who doesn't (Ciarán Hinds).

Cinematography is as much on display as story and character. The film is full of long distance shots where the unusual backgrounds are the focus (the California Badlands stand in for Judea).
This unusual approach ensures that Last Days won't be mistaken for Martin Scorsese's The Last Temptation of Christ, Mel Gibson's The Passion of the Christ, or any other Jesus movie. It also makes this an endurance challenge that will likely leave you restless at times.

Movies about Christ with suitable production values are typically guaranteed not to lose money, but Broad Green Pictures barely even bothered putting this in theaters. The reason is plain to see: García's determination to not just repeat the familiar stories of miracles, the Crucifixion and Resurrection leaves us with something impossibly dry (no pun intended) and tough to warm to.

Though he's quite a bit older than Jesus got to be, McGregor does fine work in the dual lead roles. You can tell one character from the other visually, because the Devil wears rings and earrings. They're also rather different in personality and tone.

After barely sending the film to theaters, it is little surprise that Broad Green didn't bother with a Blu-ray edition, releasing Last Days this week only on DVD.

Last Days in the Desert DVD cover art -- click to buy from Amazon.com DVD Details

2.40:1 Anamorphic Widescreen
Dolby Digital 5.1 (English, Spanish)
Subtitles: English for Hearing Impaired, Spanish
Not Closed Captioned
Release Date: August 2, 2016
Single-sided, dual-layered disc (DVD-9)
Suggested Retail Price: $26.99
Black Keepcase
Also on Instant Video

VIDEO and AUDIO

It's disappointing to see a film whose visuals appear to be a top priority not being made available in high definition. The DVD's 2.40:1 anamorphic widescreen transfer is okay for standard definition, but the higher resolution, more vibrant colors, and sharper picture afforded by Blu-ray's 1080p are all missed here. The Dolby Digital 5.1 soundtrack gets the job done well, with silence and score outnumbering dialogue and effects by a wide margin.

The Father (Ciaran Hinds) comfort his sick wife (Ayelet Zurer) on the basic menu of the Last Days in the Desert DVD.

BONUS FEATURES, MENUS, PACKAGING and DESIGN

The altogether barebones DVD contains no bonus features, not even trailers for other Broad Green Pictures releases.

The main menu places the three listings under a scored montage of clips.

No inserts or slipcover accompany the plain black keepcase, as Last Days is not fitted with a digital copy (to date, no Broad Green disc has included that common feature).

"Last Days in the Desert" will have you seeing double when Yeshua (Ewan McGregor) and the Demon (also Ewan McGregor) interact.

CLOSING THOUGHTS

There's a good chance you missed hearing about Last Days in the Desert. Unfortunately, that obscurity isn't the misfortune you want to rant about. This film won't do much for many people. Even those who are always in a mood to hear about Jesus may find their patience tested by Rodrigo García's arid approach. Broad Green's barebones DVD makes the film widely available, but does nothing to give it replay value or collectability.

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Related Reviews:
The Last Temptation of ChristThe Miracle MakerNoah
Ewan McGregor: Jane Got a GunThe ImpossibleShallow GraveAugust: Osage CountyThe Men Who Stare at Goats
Ciaran Hinds: Above Suspicion: Complete CollectionThe Driftless AreaThe RiteMargot at the WeddingGhost Rider: Spirit of Vengeance
Tye Sheridan: Scouts Guide to the Zombie ApocalypseThe Tree of Life
New to Disc: The Dark HorseLouder Than BombsMiracles From Heaven

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Reviewed August 5, 2016.



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