Walton Goggins as Leon, Richard Gere as Dr. Stone, Bradley Whitford as Clyde, and Peter Dinklage as Joseph in THREE CHRISTS | ©2020 IFC Films

Walton Goggins as Leon, Richard Gere as Dr. Stone, Bradley Whitford as Clyde, and Peter Dinklage as Joseph in THREE CHRISTS | ©2020 IFC Films

Rating: R
Stars: Richard Gere, Peter Dinklage, Walton Goggins, Bradley Whitford, Charlotte Hope, Kevin Pollak, Julianna Margulies, James Monroe Iglehart, Stephen Root, Jane Alexander
Writers: Eric Nazarian & Jon Avnet, based on the book THE THREE CHRISTS OF YPSILANTI by Dr. Milton Rokeach
Director: Jon Avnet
Distributor: IFC Films
Release Date: January 10, 2020

THREE CHRISTS is neither theological nor Biblical. Instead, it’s a (seemingly loosely) fact-based drama set largely in a Michigan medical institution in 1959 and 1960. Director Jon Avnet and his co-screenwriter Eric Nazarian have taken Dr. Milton Rokeach’s nonfiction book THE THREE CHRISTS OF YPSILANTI and turned it into one of those tales of a medical man who, by saving others, also saves himself.

In this case, the doctor is psychiatrist Alan Stone (Richard Gere), happily married to brainy college professor Ruth (Julianna Margulies) with two adorable daughters. On the surface, Alan doesn’t appear to have much he needs to be saved from, except a tendency to antagonize authority figures.

Newly installed at the Ypsilanti State Hospital, Alan immediately clashes with his peers over their use of shock treatment and over-medication on the patients. Alan is bemused to find that he’s got not one but two inmates who believe they are Jesus Christ. Joseph (Peter Dinklage) says he is Jesus of Nazareth. He is erudite, well-spoken and opera-loving, though he is self-destructive and dangerous when provoked. Clyde (Bradley Whitford) also thinks he is Jesus, “but not of Nazareth.” He detects stench everywhere and showers way too often.

Alan finds a third mental patient, PTSD sufferer Leon (Walton Goggins), who also believes he is Christ. The one thing all three Christs agree on is that there can be only one real Christ. Alan thinks that having the three in therapy with one another, minus all other patients, may help them find their way back to their original identities.

THREE CHRISTS movie poster | ©2020 IFC Films

THREE CHRISTS movie poster | ©2020 IFC Films

Gere is in the kind of role he excels at, erudite, interested, caring, but with a layer of reserve. Dinklage conveys enormous soulfulness, while Goggins has both rage and innocence. Whitford gives a bravely physical performance. Kevin Pollak, as the chief of psychiatry at the hospital, always lets us see that the character’s bad actions come from a place of genuinely believing he’s doing right.

It’s an intriguing set-up, but it feels like there are pieces that are either shuffled around to make a point, or missing entirely. We’ve got Pollak’s chief of psychiatry who likes Alan’s results, but keeps arguing with him, while another doctor with clout, played by Stephen Root, thinks Alan’s methods are dangerous but still keeps fighting for him. This seems like it may be intended as realistic human contradiction, but it plays more as plot mechanics.

Also, while Alan undeniably goes through a lot in the story, it’s unclear in what ways he’s changed. Much of the the time given to his battles with authority might have been better used to show the ways in which his patients are progressing. In its appearance, its earnestness, and adherence to certain filmic conventions, THREE CHRISTS feels like it could have been made any time between the ‘70s and the present.

Even so, the premise and the performances are enough to recommend THREE CHRISTS to fans of this type of material.

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