Louder and more chaotic than its material seems to warrant, Abel Ferrara’s Mary feels like the condensed version of a much larger movie. It includes scenes from a religious epic, TV interviews, street fights, limo rides, infidelity, hypocrisy, apostasy, and conversion, but at a mere 83 minutes the whole thing's over before it has even begun.
Forest Whitaker plays a TV host examining the historical Jesus on a nightly broadcast, and Matthew Modine is the director and star of a controversial Biblical film. Modine agrees to appear on Whitaker’s show, boosting both of their careers, but one person they can't yoke to their PR efforts is Juliette Binoche who plays Mary Magdalene in Modine’s movie. She’s been so transformed by the experience that at the end of the shoot she drops everything and heads to Jerusalem.
Very little of this mess works in any conventional sense, but as the performances begin to redline — as Whitaker bottoms out and begs God to save his child and Binoche takes to the water like a fisher of men — the movie seems to examine the relationship between performance and contrition. All of these characters are actors; some of them are trying to open a channel to God while others are putting on a show intended to earn some grace. It’s a fitting topic for Ferrara, whose movies frequently embrace the same contradictions, and they’re all here in Mary. The excess, the guilt, and the search for truth are intriguingly jumbled with some assembly required.