★★½ Three Thousand Years of Longing, directed by George Miller (Mad Max: Fury Road), has eked magic out of the film with its visual intrigue and the casting of its two leads. Alithea, played by Tilda Swinton, is a literary scholar and a self-described narratologist. As a woman who studies stories, she seems content with her life in academia. She presents at an academic conference in Istanbul and faints from a hallucination. She goes to her hotel room, wipes down a bottle she found in an old antique shop, and releases a Djinn played by Idris Elba. He offers her three wishes, but because she is a studier of stories, Alithea knows that Djinns are tricky, and those wishes may come with a price. Instead of asking for her deepest desires, she leads the Djinn to tell her about the stories from his life that are full of longing, hence the title of the movie.
Ultimately it becomes a study of the effects those wishes had on the Djinn and the women who captured him. It turns out that Alithea isn’t very content with her life at all. She just wants love. The movie is told in CGI-laden flashbacks and takes the audience on a cinematic adventure from beauty to horror. Elba gives a performance of depth and nuance. Swinton is perfectly paired with him as an acting partner as they are both powerhouses with gravitas but watching a movie where a white woman keeps control of a black man to grant her wishes feels unsettling. It is also unfortunate that the story is laden with too much voice-over. It does the actors and the movie a disservice. The script written by Miller and his daughter Augusta Gore feels clunky, and the stories that the Djinn weaves are too long. There is too much “telling” and not enough “showing.” The audience in my screening was stretching in their seats. The production design by Robert Ford (The Chronicles of Narnia series, The Dressmaker) was the highlight, and the cinematography by John Seale (Mad Max: Fury Road, The English Patient) provided intrigue as it took us on the adventure. Each location was given thought and care in its meticulous detail. The last 30 minutes of the film provide meaning to the rest of the movie and have some lovely moments, but the payoff doesn’t feel worth the watch in the movie theater.