Synopsis: A boundary-pushing psychiatrist treats three schizophrenic patients who believe they are Jesus Christ.
Stars: Richard Gere, Peter Dinklage, Walton Goggins, Bradley Whitford, Charlotte Hope, Julianna Margulies
Director: Jon Avnet
Running Length: 117 minutes
TMMM Score: (3/10)
Review: It seems like a rite of passage for every serious actor (or actor that wants to be taken seriously) to play a psych patient at some point in their career. Watching Three Christs, you get the feeling the three actors that signed up for this slow rolling drama felt as if this was their chance to cross the padded room experience off their list. The trouble is, they’ve found themselves in a movie that isn’t very interesting outside of its central subjects and there’s not enough warmth within any of those characters to keep audiences engaged for its lengthy run time.
Based on Milton Rokeach’s 1954 nonfiction book The Three Christs of Ypsilanti, the psychiatric case study was adapted into a narrative screenplay by director Jon Avnet (Fried Green Tomatoes) and Eric Nazarian. From the beginning, with Richard Gere (Pretty Woman) appearing bruised and worn-down speaking into a tape recorder so that he may, and I’m paraphrasing, ‘set the record straight’, Nazarian and Avent have a hard time translating Rokeach’s landmark study into anything compelling. If anything, they’ve taken what was evidently a radical approach to treatment of paranoid schizophrenia that wasn’t entirely embraced by the psychiatric community and reduced it to a series of vignettes that pits a doctor (Gere) and his team against his more traditional colleagues.
As the three men believing themselves to be Christ, Walton Goggins (Them That Follow), Bradley Whitford (Saving Mr. Banks), and Peter Dinklage (Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri) have varying degrees of success throughout the movie in their interpretation of mental illness. While Rokeach’s study is fairly descriptive to the degrees of how the schizophrenia affected each man, all three seem to be operating largely on the same level of energy with Goggins opting for the most expressive approach, Whitford for the most muted, and Dinklage the most practical. Instead of it being a showcase of their talents, it just gets awkward because you become distracted by Dinklage’s droll insistence on adopting another poor British dialect and Goggins tendency to bug his eyes behind thick glasses that already magnify them. Whitford likely emerges the most sympathetic because his affectations don’t manifest themselves as outwardly bombastic as the other two.
Per usual, Gere is all business with no one more earnest about the plight of his character than the actor himself. Gere is always good with convincingly advocating for the roles he is playing; whether they are nice people or not, if they are wrong, he’ll convince us they’re right. That’s troublesome here because many of the doctors methods aren’t ethical and, while breaking the rules may lead to breakthroughs, it doesn’t always mean it was the right choice. The doctor learns that the hard way. Also learning things the hard way? Any fan of Julianna Margulies (The Upside) hoping to see her get to do something interesting. Aside from a brief suggestion she’s dealing with her own troubling vices, her role is largely relegated to the wife that stands at the doorway to her husband’s study and asks “when are you coming to bed?” As the token fuddy-duddy naysayer, Kevin Pollak (Indian Summer) get some mileage as Gere’s colleague who looks down his nose at the new doctor’s questionable methods. Only Jane Alexander’s (Testament) brief appearance as a respected professional willing to listen to new ways of thinking strikes the kind of interesting note the rest of the movie sorely needed.
Three Christs was filmed in 2016 and had it’s premiere in September 2017 at the Toronto International Film Festival. Just now receiving its release three years later suggests that no one was in a rush to release this movie and you shouldn’t be in a rush to see it either. It’s a movie for fans of these actors only…and even then your mileage may vary based on how long of a leash you’re willing to give them.