If one thing Abel Ferrara has been consistent with in every film he has ever directed is the amazing performances he garners from the actors. Harvey Keitel’s Bad Lieutenant; Zoe Lund’s Ms. 45; Christopher Walken’s King of New York, each performance is some of the most intense work of their careers. In Ferrara’s new film, Mary, both Forest Whitaker and Juliette Binoche (as with the rest of the cast) give such amazing performances that they should be added to the list of the best work of their careers.
Lately, the role of Mary Magdalene has been dissected a lot more than it has been previously. Most recently, Dan Brown’s The Da Vinci Code (and Ron Howard’s terrible film adaptation) claims that Mary was married to Jesus and while that theory/hypothesis isn’t exactly new, most always appointed her to a life of prostitution.
Abel Ferrara is no stranger to controversy but with his film, he isn’t exactly bringing up what she may or may not have been to Jesus outright. Instead, he has crafted a powerful film about the subject that gives the viewer the option to decide. And he doesn’t wrap it in some crappy, formulaic, murder-mystery either (hear that Dan Brown?).
Each character in this film is obsessed with exploring the life of Christ and Mary in some way. Tony Childress (Matthew Modine channeling Abel’s own infamous personality) is a director making a film about Jesus, and he plays Christ himself. The actress playing Mary Magdalene (Juliette Binoche) decides to go on a pilgrimage to locations Mary once was in the past. Ted Younger (Whitaker) is a Charlie Rose-like television personality dedicating show after show to the subject, and when he tries to get Childress on the program to both promote his film and discuss the issues, things get confrontational for both of them.
Mary ends up being a film both reminiscent of Ferrara’s others (especially with the wonderfully gritty camera work) and a step in a different direction. Like most filmmakers, he has made films that are over the place, from great to not so great. Mary falls closer to the earlier category and like most of his work, it requires our strict attention, and won’t bore with formulaic riddles or simplistic Murder She Wrote plot twists.