Third Person (2013) / Drama-Romance
MPAA Rated: R for language and some sexuality/nudity
Running Time: 137 min.
Cast: Liam Neeson, Adrien Brody, Olivia Wilde, Moran Atias, Mila Kunis, Kim Basinger, James Franco, Maria Bello, Loan Chabanol, Vinizio Marchioni, Oliver Crouch
Director: Paul Haggis
Screenplay: Paul Haggis
Review published July 13, 2014
Third Person is one of those nifty and highly ambitious ideas for a movie that, in retrospect, probably should have remained an idea and never made it all the way to the silver screen. Though it proceeds as if there is some sort of mystery surrounding the interconnected lives of various characters we follow as part of this movie, the title more or less gives it away (the trailer pretty much did it for me). It's one of those films, much like Paul Haggis's own Best Picture winner, Crash, that has a central theme that all of the stories spin out from, but in this case, there isn't the weight of an overall big theme like racism to anchor it so much as one that is very singular and personal.
Although there are many characters, the closest thing to a lead is that of a Pulitzer-winning novelist named Michael (Neeson, Non-Stop), who has been holed up in his Parisian hotel room working on his latest, while also engaging in an extramarital affair with the much younger protégée Anna (Wilde, Better Living Through Chemistry), for whom he recently separated from his wife, Elaine (Basinger, Grudge Match). The second major story thread involves an American named Scott (Brody, The Grand Budapest Hotel) who is on a business trip in Rome, and who ends up befriending Monika (Atias, Just Married), a gypsy woman desperate to get enough money to pay some child traffickers off and get her abducted young daughter back. In a third and lesser story arc, Mila Kunis (Oz the Great and Powerful) plays Julia, a newly hired maid in a New York hotel, who has been trying to gain visitation rights for the son after being accused of abusing him. Other smaller roles go to James Franco (Palo Alto) and Maria Bello (Prisoners), but their importance isn't revealed until late in the film.
At about the 90-minute mark, its length begins to make this a creaky affair, especially if you have a clue where it's all going. Unfortunately, there's another 45 minutes or so to go once fatigue sets in, and without much investment in any of these rather unlikeable characters, there are only a handful of directorial choices by Haggis to admire from there on out. The storylines all have to do with love, regret, and reconciliation in various forms. That, and each yarn also trots out a form of child victimization. However, it all feels so contrived, perhaps intentionally so when you factor in the fictitious nature of the story and the dwindling prowess of the storyteller, and yet, it is all so very unsatisfactory to witness.
The only storyline that sparks any lasting interest is the one involving Adrien Brody and whether he is a hero, or the victim of an elaborate con. The story is too fabricated and forced to buy as something plausible, but from a movie standpoint, the themes of of the folly of love drawn out in whether he means to see his quest to the bitter end does make for a thoughtful watch. This storyline has some major issues, especially in terms of authenticity, but at least it is never boring, which is something the other two arcs suffer mightily from.
Despite the overwrought nature of the plot, there are some things to admire here. The acting is decent, with Olivia Wilde as the standout in terms of nuanced performances (not to mention, she does bare all on a couple of occasions). The score by Dario Marianelli (Anna Karenina, Salmon Fishing in the Yemen) is exquisite, tinged with accordion flourishes, and works well with Haggis's fluid camera movements. There's also some choice story-within-a-story that can be viewed as self-effacing commentary, as Haggis is writing all of these characters, while his stand-in, Michael, is criticized by a representative of his publisher for writing progressively weaker, less daring material, to the point where it's an embarrassment to read.
Unfortunately, this script is definitely not a return to form for the auteur, whose attempt to craft an elaborate, three-course meal is ruined by leaving it in the oven of his own imagination far too long.
©2014 Vince Leo