Film Reviews: Three Thousand Years of Longing | The Forgiven | I Came By
Despite some wild flights of CGI fancy, Three Thousand Years of Longing struggles to catch fire due to a lack of chemistry between co-stars Tilda Swinton and Idris Elba, writes Alistair Harkness
Three Thousand Years of Longing (15) ***
The Forgiven (18) ***
Fall (15) ***
I Came By (15) **
If you only know George Miller as the director of Mad Max: Fury Road, you don’t really know George Miller. Having kickstarted his career with that film’s genre-redefining predecessors, he’s managed to turn his hand to pretty much anything Hollywood has thrown at him, even scoring a successful run of family movies with Babe: Pig in the City and the two Happy Feet films.
Apart from George Lucas he’s probably also western cinema’s most ardent student of Joseph Campbell, author of The Hero with a Thousand Faces, the mythological urtext of the modern blockbuster age, but also editor of The Thousand and One Nights, a similarly comprehensive volume of Middle Eastern folklore.
The latter is an especially clear influence on Miller’s new film Three Three Thousand Years of Longing, though so too is Campbell himself, not least in Tilda Swinton’s character Alithea, a narratologist who travels the globe lecturing on stories and myths and how they help us make sense of the chaos of the modern world.
On one such trip to Istanbul, Alithea comes across a magical ornament that’s not quite a lantern but does, when rubbed, unleash a giant wish-dispensing genie, or “Djin”. Played by Idris Elba, he’s been corked up for millennia and wants only to win his freedom by granting a mortal three wishes. Alas, Alithea’s research has made her far too aware of the fact that stories about wishes are inherently cautionary tales, so she makes him tell her his life story to figure out if he’s trustworthy.
At which point both don hotel bathrobes and settle down for chat in Alithea’s room, transforming what hitherto promised to be an engrossing example of the magic of storytelling into a film about the magic of storytelling – a very different and much less interesting proposition.
Which isn’t to say there are no wild flights of fancy: Miller’s deployment of CGI is vivid and painterly not blurry and distracting, and he conjures up individual scenes that wouldn’t look out of place in the aforementioned Mad Max: Fury Road. But where that film was constantly in motion, this one feels static, ossified by lengthy voiceover descriptions and two stars who sadly have very little on-screen chemistry.
The Forgiven marks Calvary writer/director John Michael McDonagh’s first foray into prestige-style filmmaking and somehow it manages to be both a lacerating take-down of the sanctimonious tone those movies often strike yet also a sincere portrait of a troubled protagonist failing to outrun his fate.
Ralph Fiennes and Jessica Chastain are on typically fine, aloof form as David and Jo Henninger, a wealthy couple on holiday in Morocco who knock over and kill a local Berber teenager while en route to a party with friends they don’t seem to like very much. David’s an alcoholic and was drunk behind the wheel, but McDonagh (adapting Lawrence Osborn’s 2014 novel) muddies the waters by introducing the victim sniffing solvents, brandishing a gun, and planning the car-jacking he’s in the process of executing when David accidentally hits him with the car.
What follows isn’t a standard moral thriller either, as the bacchanalian bash trundles on and the police suggest sweeping the death under the carpet. It’s only when the boy’s father (Ismael Kanater) arrives to demand his son’s body and some form of justice that David begins to reckon with what he’s done – a plot turn that makes for a discombobulating viewing experience but in retrospect also serves to deepen the film. Matt Smith and Christopher Abbott co-star.
For about 40 minutes Fall is precisely the sort of taut, nerve-jangling, low-budget B-movie that’s all too rare in cinemas. Revolving around a pair of best friends who get stuck up a 2,000-foot telecom tower somewhere in the Mojave desert, it makes innovative use of its derelict location as social media influencer Hunter (Virginia Gardner) persuades her best friend Becky (Gracy Caroline Currey) to climb it as a way of getting over the death of her husband in a rock climbing accident a year earlier.
The vertigo-inducing tension intensifies roughly in tandem with every foot Becky manages to climb beyond the half-way point, which Hunter cheerfully informs her is higher than the Eiffel Tower. Alas, once they get to the top and the structure becomes thoroughly unsteady, the film also starts looking a little shaky. Director Scott Mann doesn’t seem to have enough confidence in the purity of the idea. Consequently he book-ends it with a honking opening act full of trauma-narrative clichés and an overly complicated finale involving buzzards, drones, betrayals and a tension-draining twist that doesn’t come off.
Still, it’s better than I Came By, a lame psychological thriller that initially revolves around a social justice warrior (a miscast George Mackay) attempting to disrupt the British class system by breaking into the homes of the London elite and spray-painting the eponymous phrase across their walls. He gets more than he bargained when he breaks into the home of a former high court judge, though sadly we don’t. As played by Hugh Bonneville, the judge is like a cut-rate Hannibal Lecter, brazenly using his old-boy network to cover-up his misdeeds while director and co-writer Babak Anvari attempts throw us off the scent by liberally borrowing a plot-twist from one of Hitchcock’s most famous movies. Kelly Macdonald co-stars.
Three Thousand Years of Longing, The Forgiven and Fall are exclusively in cinemas from 2 September. I Came By streams on Netflix from 31 August.