Directed by: Paul Haggis.
Written by: Paul Haggis.
Starring: Liam Neeson (Michael), Olivia Wilde (Anna), Mila Kunis (Julia), Adrien Brody (Scott), Moran Atias (Monika), James Franco (Rick), Maria Bello (Theresa), Kim Basinger (Elaine), Loan Chabanol (Sam), Oliver Crouch (Jesse), Vinicio Marchioni (Carlo).
The men in Paul Haggis’ Third Person are all stoic, depressed assholes who think they are trying to help the women in their lives, but are is reality hurting them even more. Those women are all manic, depressed and sometime out and out crazy. Children factor into their stories, but mainly as something to be ignored, forgotten or abused, even while their parents claim often that they love them. Like Crash, Third Person tells a series of interlocking stories – this time, they aren’t connected by some overreaching subject matter – like race – but share a more tenuous connection – one that Haggis doesn’t reveal until the final scenes in this overlong (2 hour, 15 minute) movie – but smart viewers will probably predict from the early stages in the film. Haggis hides the information – but drops some not so subtle hints along the way letting us know that all is not quite right here.
In Paris, Pulitzer Prize winning author Michael (Liam Neeson) is holed up in a hotel room writing his latest opus. He has just left his wife, Elaine (Kim Basinger) from his much younger mistress, Anna (Olivia Wilde) – who fancies herself a writer as well, although Michael describes both her work and her in general as “beautiful but cold”. The two basically spend their time saying horrible things to each, and then either ignoring each other or fucking. In Rome, fashion counterfeiter Scott (Adrien Brody) goes into Café Americano, feeling homesick, who meets a beautiful Roma woman, Monika (Moran Atias), who leaves her bag behind – and when she returns for it, says that 5,000 Euros are missing? She needs that money to pay to get her 8 year old daughter out of the hands of some human traffickers – who will other side start to pimp her out. Scott, of course, agrees to help – even if he suspects it all may be a scam. And in New York, Julia (Mila Kunis), a former actress, who gave up her career to have a child, is now no longer even allowed to she her son – some allegations of abuse were made, and while she insists she is innocent, her rich and famous painter ex-husband Rick (James Franco – of course) now has full custody. Julia is trying to get it back with the help of her lawyer Theresa (Mario Bello) – but keeps screwing it all up.
Haggis’ Oscar winning Crash was not a model of subtlety in filmmaking, but it is nowhere near as bad as many seem to think it is (there is a lot of revisionist history going on when it comes to Crash – no it shouldn’t have won, or even been nominated, for a Best Picture Oscar – but it’s still a decent enough film). His two films since, In the Valley of Elah (2007) and The Next Three Days (2010), were not critical or commercial hits, but were decent enough for what they were – which was nothing like Crash. It makes a certain degree of sense that he would return to a narrative whose structure resembles his greatest success. But without an overriding issue to connect the tissue, we spend much of the time wondering what these three stories have to do with each other, even while noticing that the various men and women in each of the stories have way too much in common for it to be mere coincidence – and there are some instances that are completely impossible to explain in any logical sense, that are are deliberately (and ham fistedly) placed in by Haggis.
To be fair to the film, the cast really does give it their all – with the women, Wilde, Kunis and Atias impressing the most. The film also acts as a reminder than Liam Neeson can do more than simply kick dark skinned terrorists asses if he feels like it, and also reminds us why Brody once won an Oscar – his performance anchors hat is the movies most ludicrous storyline. Franco spends pretty much his entire role stirring paint, until the last half hour when he finally has something to say. Pretty much wasted are Basinger, Bello and Loan Chabanol (who with her role here, and in John Turturro’s Fading Gigolo earlier, has been wasted twice in one year – and still makes me want to see what she can do in a better role).
There are many problems with Third Person – but the biggest has got to be its length. 135 minutes is certainly not too long for a movie – but it’s far too long for this movie. Each of the three storylines feel like they are dragged out to a ridiculous degree, and given how similar the characters (not the situations) are too each other, not only are the individual storylines repeating themselves throughout their narratives, the film is repeating itself between stories as well. Then the ending comes – and while I expected the ending from fairly early in the movie, I still didn’t quite believe that Haggis would go there – it’s such an amateurish ending – something a novice filmmaker would think profound, but someone who has been around from as long as Haggis has really should have known better. I didn’t like the first two hours of Third Person – but I downright hated the final 15 minutes.