“Third Person” — a film review by Gary Chew
Screenwriter and director Paul Haggis is back with a new film with much the same construction he put to “Crash,” which won the Best Picture Oscar in 2004.
“Third Person” doesn’t have as much humanitarian weight as “Crash.” That makes it vulnerable to criticism such as mere narcissistic ramblings of a fictional author working through his screwed up life by putting words and sentences to paper.
The troubled, yet celebrated author is named Michael, played by Liam Neeson. Michael is a work of fiction out of the mind of Haggis; but it’s a safe to say that a generous amount of what’s gone into “Third Person” wafts a strong redolence of the autobiographical.
This intimate movie carries three story threads that are presented as concurrent, yet one takes place in New York City, another in Paris and yet another in Rome. Stunning things are shown on the motion picture screen in regard to location.
Michael has left his wife Elaine (Kim Bassinger). He’s in a ritzy Paris hotel writing. She’s back in the States. His lover, Anna (Olivia Wilde), comes to stay for a while. It would be an understatement to say that the younger Anna is unpredictably obstreperous. She moves in a fast lane that proves to be much more that you might suspect. Although I must say, I did happen on to a secret possibility of her habits before they become clear.
Julia (Mila Kunis) is a washed up actor in New York embroiled in an custody battle with her former husband, Rick (James Franco). It’s alleged that Julia has earlier put their young son in danger. Rick, a noted artist, has custody of the boy and lives with his girl friend Sam (Loan Chabanoc). Julia is undone with this stressful proceeding. She and her attorney, Theresa (Maria Bello), are trying to get Julia visiting rights. But Theresa isn’t sure if her client is truthful when Julia claims she’s not culpable.
Meanwhile in the Eternal City, Scott (Adrien Brody) is about to leave Rome after purloining new fashions in mens’ clothing. Scott will take these sketches back to the States and sell them to low-grade clothing manufacturers. At a Roman bar, Scott meets a seductive woman named Monika (Moran Atias). Scott is caught up in Monika’s problem to retrieve her young daughter from a Roman bad guy who will put the daughter to work on the streets if Monika doesn’t hand over lots of cash.
Like Julia’s attorney is unsure if her client is being truthful, Scott is also dubious that Monika may be setting up him for a scam … in league with the bad guy.
As in a big novel, “Third Person” has lots of characters to keep straight in your head, while you’re grasping at the perpetually nuanced bent of Haggis’s script. What’s really going on that the story has yet to reveal; and how is it that characters an ocean apart seem to be “walking right by” one another down the same hall in a hotel?
“Third Person” might need a second look — if you can handle its length and the desperation being lived by its characters.
Trust and guilt get a work out in this film that seems to me to be all in the mind of one guy who’s making all this stuff up, and getting his characters mixed up between three great cities … in order to write a better novel and tame his personal demons. It’s not a bad movie but, sometimes, a slog.