Review by Sean Boelman
The latest film from writer-director Jon Avnet (whose most famous work is Southern cult classic Fried Green Tomatoes), Three Christs is a star-studded new drama based on an exceptional true story. However, through all the attempts to shallowly inspire is a disappointingly formulaic narrative that fails to take advantage of its excellent cast.
The movie tells the story of a psychiatrist who revolutionized the field of psychiatric medicine, studying three schizophrenic patients who believe that they are Jesus Christ. There are many different angles through which Avnet and co-writer Eric Nazarian could have approached this story, and they took what is perhaps the most conventional.
That said, even though the film leans heavily into the more saccharine aspects of the story, it doesn’t ever quite figure out its tone. While the movie is first and foremost a portrait of a man sticking it to the system and practices which he does not believe in, there is also a comedic tinge to the story. At times, it is obvious that the viewer is supposed to laugh at what they are seeing, but schizophrenia is by no means a humorous condition.
It is obvious that the main intention of this film is to preach the empathy and compassion for which the protagonist stood up in his career, but the fact that the movie approaches this story from a comic perspective makes the film feel much less compassionate than it otherwise would be. Thankfully, the second half of the movie does adopt a much more somber tone, but this is too little too late, as the beginning will have already alienated most viewers.
Another thing about this film that is frustrating is its overwhelming lack of character development. Although the audience is meant to admire the protagonist for his moral principles, there isn’t much else about him that is particularly likable. Over the course of the movie, very little is done to form a connection between the hero and the viewer. Even more aggravating is the surface-level treatment afforded to his patients, who are little more than caricatures.
The cast in the film is extremely talented, and they do a great job of bringing the characters to life as written, but the weak script is what holds them back. Richard Gere has a very compelling screen presence, and he brings that to this movie. Yet with a more likably-written character, his talents could have been used more effectively. Peter Dinklage, Walton Goggins, and Bradley Whitford are all solid in their roles as his patients, but their turns are the very definition of one-note.
On a technical level, the film is certainly competent, but one can’t help but feel like the style is that of something that would have been released twenty years ago. The cinematography, editing, and soundtrack are all very by-the-book for the genre. With a story as potentially eye-opening as this, Avnet should have made the movie feel less safe.
The true story behind Three Christs is very interesting, but apart from some inspired casting, the film has disappointingly little to offer. If the tone had been more consistent and the director a bit more ambitious, this could have been easy awards fodder. As is, it’s just a dud.
Three Christs hits theaters and VOD on January 10.
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