'Three Thousand Years of Longing' review: A visual treat that comes up empty
Courtesy of MGM/UA
Trying to kill time before his next iteration in the “Mad Max” universe, George Miller’s $60 million passion project “Three Thousand Years of Longing” is filled with ambition and a dense visual language but lacks enchantment or the inventiveness expected of the Oscar nominated filmmaker. Starring Tilda Swinton and Idris Elba (who seems to be everywhere lately), “Three Thousand Years of Longing” (a title I’m sure marketing executives were thrilled about) features a dizzying array of imagery and storytelling mechanics that make perfect, logical sense coming from the director who defied the odds with “Mad Max: Fury Road” and found creative methods of retooling children fare ala “Babe: Pig in the City” and “Happy Feet.”
Alas, “Three Thousand Years” isn’t a bad movie, in fact it’s competently made and Swinton and Elba seemed dialed into the material, but it all adds up to a “meh” instead of a “wow.” For a movie centered around a genie being let out of his cage to grant three wishes, there’s certainly magic missing in the secret sauce. Swinton plays a narratologist, someone who studies stories for a living and dissects their historical context, while Elba plays a djinn who has been stuck in purgatory for, you guessed it, three thousand years.
She accidentally releases him after finding what she assumed was a nifty antique at a bazaar in Turkey. At first he’s the size of her entire hotel room and can’t speak English, though it’s not long before his body quickly adapts and the entire movie becomes a therapy session broken up into small vignettes of him recounting how and why he came to be. He reminisces about lost love and how guiding others onto a path of hope instead of desperation gave him peace.
Except the movie scrambles and scrambles through these stylized sequences while Miller, far more interested in exploring intimate relationships than giant spectacles, directs the somber, quieter moments with a soft reserve, allowing his two leads to anchor the tenderness amid a frantic, unrealized fantasy subplot.
“Three Thousand Years of Longing,” co-written by Miller with his daughter Augusta Gore, which is based on A.S Byatt’s short story: “The Djinn in the Nightingale’s Eye,” is more than just a movie about a genie who grants wishes: it touches on themes of heartbreak, sacrifice, and fractured relationships, but the framing device often holds the film back from reaching the heights it’s so desperately searching for.
When the movie focuses on the dynamic between Swinton and Elba in their bathrobes inside a desolate hotel room, Miller’s vision flourishes. But despite the director's signature finesse, “Three Thousand Years of Longing” could have used more glue to mend the broken parts together. Instead, it comes up hollow and incomplete, like a genie trapped inside the circumstances of his own creation.
THREE THOUSAND YEARS OF LONGING is now playing in theaters.