By Jeff Walsh
"3 Needles" tells three stories across three continents, all about HIV. The film, which comes out on DVD today, has an impressive all-star cast (Lucy Liu, Chloe Sevigny, Olympia Dukakis, Stockard Channing, Sandra Oh, and Shawn Ashmore) and a sprawling story about how HIV affects so many lives in so many different ways.
When I learned it was had three different stories, my assumption was they would be intertwined into some jigsaw that all came together toward the end. But, in large part is it just three linear stories told in sequence.
While I appreciated the message of the movie, and found each segment interesting, the movie overall didn't seem to provide me with enough of a hook to recommend it strongly to anyone. The film looks great, really taking advantage of its settings in China and Africa especially, and it is all acted well. But for whatever reason, the whole seemed less than the sum of its parts.
In the first segment, Lucy Liu runs an illegal blood collection agency that pays residents in a small Chinese village for their blood. While the service brings prosperity to the community, enabling them to plant more crops and such, by the time the harvest comes around, many of the people in the village are sick or dead.
In the second segment, Shawn Ashmore is a North American porn actor who passes his regular HIV tests by drawing blood from his ailing, passed-out father, causing an outbreak among his fellow actors.
In the third segment, Chloe Sevigny, Olympia Dukakis and Sandra Oh are nuns in Africa (who would ever think such a sentence would ever be written?). With many of the residents dying, the nuns become engaged in a philosophical debate whether their role is to help the infected residents receive Jesus before they die (lest they end up in purgatory), or should they try and stop the further spread of the disease.
There are a lot of twists and turns in the movie, so I didn't give all that much away, really. One surprising thing is that a movie focused on HIV but had no gay characters whatsoever, which makes sense though given the global angle.
I keep circling around to what I found to be missing, and I guess it was just that the issue was so large it was hard to imaging any positive change that would greatly change the global landscape of the pandemic. But seeing the different cultural reactions to HIV was certainly interesting.
So, I guess I'm not saying to avoid the movie, but just expect to come away from it with more questions than answers, although most of the questions are about the pandemic in general, as all of the segments in the movie do have resolution. You just know that outside of these stories, a global pandemic lives on.