There is a recurring bit of business in which characters assume the shoes of others, sometimes even swiping them from a still-warm corpse, in this ambitious comedy-drama about man's search for family and sense of belonging across the centuries. Whether all this footwear recycling has to do with the transmigration of souls or merely soles is never entirely clear.
In fact, there's a certain haziness of meaning and purpose that hangs over all of Being Human, making this a movie that probably requires more patience and forbearance than the average filmgoer is willing to give. In a series of five vignettes, Human time travels from the Bronze Age right up to contemporary New York City. In each segment, Williams plays a man named Hector who, whether a caveman, a slave in the Roman Empire, a medieval Crusader, a 16th century Portugese nobleman or a '90s slumlord, needs to make peace with himself and with the ties binding him to those he loves.
Director-screenwriter Bill Forsyth, whose previous films include the whimsical Local Hero and the moving Housekeeping, works better in miniature than on the grand scale he's attempting this time out. As for Williams, he's in his serious-actor mode (no antic asides or improvised riffs) and does just fine, particularly in the final segment as a divorced man trying to reconnect with his children. Human is not without its affecting moments, but in the end, it's notable more for the movie it's trying to be than for the one it actually is. (PG-13)