When Judas (Harvey Keitel), a Jewish resistance fighter, is sent to kill Jesus (Willem Dafoe), a carpenter who helps Romans construct crosses for crucifixions, he realizes that Jesus might in fact be the Messiah. An intensely religious retelling of the life of Jesus Christ that was much hated by conservatives for having the audacity to explore the old saga from an intellectually curious standpoint. Jesus is portrayed as a human being of flesh and blood; his weaknesses and laborious attempts to resist Satan’s temptations make him a more challenging figure, a cult leader who happens to be right. Heavy-going at times, but still worthwhile, with an intense Dafoe performance and an offbeat score.
1988-U.S. 164 min. Color. Produced by Barbara De Fina. Directed by Martin Scorsese. Screenplay: Paul Schrader. Novel: Nikos Kazantzakis. Cinematography: Michael Ballhaus. Music: Peter Gabriel. Cast: Willem Dafoe (Jesus), Harvey Keitel (Judas), Barbara Hershey (Mary Magdalene), Harry Dean Stanton, David Bowie, Verna Bloom… Irvin Kershner.
Trivia: Aidan Quinn, Eric Roberts and Christopher Walken were allegedly considered for the part of Jesus.
Last word: “When I first met Marty in 1972, he told me that there were two books he wanted to make, ‘Gangs of New York’ and ‘The Last Temptation of Christ’. It struck me that these were rather grandiose ambitions for someone whose most important credit was a Roger Corman film. But I’ve never seen Martin Scorsese intimidated by an audacious suggestion. It’s the opposite – it perks him to life like the Energizer bunny.” (Schrader, The Guardian)