Idris Elba is the bomb. Whether he’s laundering money in “The Wire,” sporting an office cubicle suit while supervising Michael Scott, or lawyering it up in my favorite role of his in Molly’s Game (2017) —Elba exudes a Denzel Washington-like glide (his admitted influence) and the subdued empathy of a flawed saint.
The role of a wish-granting djinn who falls in love with zealous women for 3,000 years is tailored-made for him. In an Istanbul hotel room, adorned in a bathrobe, Elba recounts his genie-stuck-in-a-bottle stories with narratologist, Alithea Binnie, played by the consistently cutthroat Tilda Swinton. His sullen eyes draw you in, and within fifteen minutes of the movie, you’re hooked just by his storytelling skills alone.
It is a double-edged sword that Director George Miller (of previous Mad Max masterpieces) is the one to interpret these stories visually. Sometimes, Mr. Miller’s imagination-to-screen execution pays off as ancient civilizations burst with vibrant colors, creature sitar instruments pluck themselves, and women of the strongest desires melt in sweat and glitter. Other times, an added layer of characters in costume seems superfluous and better conceived through Elba’s spoken word and suspicious glib.
You see, you really can’t trust a djinn, according to Alithea, and Elba’s allure might be too sincere as he tells his stories. A djinn’s desire is just as strong as the human’s, and a djinn will do anything to get out of that bottle for good, including falling in love.
The eminent tension in the movie is found in Tilda Swinton’s face as she grows more and more skeptical of her postmodern Alladin friend. There’s a humor found here too. Swinton’s Alithea is kind of an attractive nerd who asks the questions we might ask. She needs the tenderness of love, but is love a solution to her desires, a worthy distraction, or just a good story to listen to in a bathrobe in an Istanbul hotel room?
Three Thousand Years of Longing reminds me of the dreamy landscapes observed in the very overlooked The Fall (2006). Both movies take the storytelling of its protagonist and expand its potential through computer-generated imagery, costume design, and haunting music. In a way, these interpretations are what the movies are made for—a sensory experience.
It is a good problem that the storyteller of “Thousand Years” is just as awestriking and engaging as the director’s vision. Some viewers might want more weird stuff to look at. I wanted less. Idris Elba could read this fascinating story at a library, act it out on stage, or record his voice for an audiobook, and I’d be just as entertained.
Just as George Miller’s “practical effects” outduelled anything CGI in his Mad Max canon, the practicality of Idris Elba simply telling a story to a camera lens exceeds the added cinema magic.
Idris Elba is a fantastic(al) reason to see Three Thousand Years of Longing.
***1/2 out of *****