Ciaran Hinds doesn’t see “Last Days in the Desert” as just another movie about Jesus. It is that: Ewan McGregor plays the Messiah himself, credited by his Hebrew name Yeshua, seen burning off the tail end of his days in the Judaean Desert. But it shares little else with the current rash of faith-based cinema. Titles like “Son of God,” “The War Room” and “Miracles from Heaven” are aimed exclusively at the faithful. “Last Days in the Desert” is slow, contemplative — an art film without a preachy bone in its body.
“I saw it as a very human story — that’s what it did to me,” the Irish actor explains to us during some time off from his current gig: appearing in the Broadway revival of “The Crucible” with Saoirse Ronan and Ben Whishaw. “Its framework is biblical. But Rodrigo approached it in a way that made it very human.
“Jesus is very human. He has a mission of questioning, searching what is out there. He’s not wandering around mysterious and godlike. It’s all very real, not particularly religious.”
In the story — an invented tale — McGregor’s Yeshua encounters a family living among the sand dunes: a stern stonecutter (Hinds) battling with his wannabe-prodigal son (Tye Sheridan). Meanwhile the mother (Ayelet Zurer) lies in their tent, slowly dying.
Directed by Rodrigo Garcia (“Mother and Child,” “Albert Nobbs”), “Desert” is as loath to evangelize as it is to offer a single, easily digestible message. It invites viewers to ruminate on mortality, on cosmic insignificance, on the humanity of even the holiest (and, with its devil character, also played by McGregor, least holiest) of figures. Hinds personally glommed onto the idea of fathers and sons. His character can be severe, but he also makes attempts to bond with Sheridan’s young man — and badly.