The story of the “Three Christs” of Ypsilanti Mental Hospital in Michigan in the late ’50s would have worked better as a harder-hitting mini-series on a network like TNT or USA than a simple hour and 48-minute film. That much is certain as soon as Three Christs begins. What director Jon Avent managed to do with the time he was given is a fascinating look at schizophrenia and identity, even if it is a sugar-coated and overly simple look.
The film makes no qualms in establishing there is indeed four Christs, not three, but with the self-imposed time constraints, we don’t get an accurate picture of the horrors Dr. Alan Stone (Richard Gere) rejects in his study nor do we get a feel of the heinous malpractice Stone commits in his efforts to “cure” his subjects.
We also don’t get a whole lot of backstory for our three Christs and what we do get is barebones at best. Leon (Walton Goggins) suffers from PTSD and has mommy issues which are what contributed to his delusions of being the Christ. Clyde (Bradley Whitford) suffers from intense guilt over the death of his wife after a failed abortion and often complains of smelling and smelling like rotten flesh. Joseph (Peter Dinklage) believes himself to be English and holds himself in higher regard to the others and portrays that by being aloof and an opera snob. Clyde is easily the most tragic and the most interesting of the three but he is short-shifted in favor of Joseph.
That’s not to say Dinklage doesn’t deliver a hell of a performance, he does, but his character is flat and uninteresting save for at the end when the audience finally feels a bit of sympathy toward him and realizes just what kind of damage Dr. Stone has caused in his bid to treat these three men.
Gere drifts through the film as Stone. He often shifts between tenderness shrouded behind a cool indifference and petulance. None of it is convincing, especially when he’s trading barbs with Dr. Orbus (Kevin Pollack), head of Ypsilanti. The only time he is convincing is when his tenderness is genuine, like when he’s dealing directly with Clyde at one point in the film, or when he’s spending time with his wife in bed.
Pollack, on the other hand, is strangely unnerving as Dr. Orbus. Maybe it’s his stance on the intense psychotherapy that was prevalent in the ’50s and ’60s. Maybe Dr. Orbus is just a slimy man. Either way, Pollack creeped me out and I didn’t particularly enjoy him.
Between Goggins, Whitford, and Dinklage, Dinklage and Whitford are the ones who turn the most memorable performances. While Joseph isn’t all that interesting or a strong enough character to hinge most of the movie on, he is a tragic figure and his ending devastated me. It all had everything to do with Dinklage and his portrayal of Joseph. Dinklage did what he could with what little he had to work with and a less seasoned actor would’ve foundered under the weak material. The same goes for Whitford. While Dinklage is intense, Whitford is quietly broken and tormented and turns in a great performance that left me wanting to know more about Clyde and cursing the fact that Clyde was shoved to the back of the film.
Sadly, while the story was fascinating and the journey the Christs go through is compelling, the writing is lacking and far too simple to be memorable. As stated previously, Three Christs could have easily been a longer, darker affair and, to be honest, it should have been. Mental health facilities in the ’50s and ’60s were not a place you wanted to end up and Three Christs sugar coats that in an effort to be bland and sensitive and non-controversial.