Synopsis: Third Person tells three stories of love, passion, trust and betrayal. The tales play out in New York, Paris and Rome through three couples who appear to have nothing in common and only tangential connections. But there is always a third person in any relationship — perhaps not romantically, perhaps you aren’t even aware of their existence, but they are there. At its heart, Third Person is much more than a collection of love stories — it is a mystery; a puzzle in which truth is revealed in glimpses, and clues are caught by the corner of your eye — and nothing is truly what it seems.
Release Date: June 20, 2014 MPAA Rating: PG-13
Although his 2004 film Crash won the Academy Award for Best Picture, Paul Haggis has had more success as a writer than a director; in addition to Crash, Haggis has written the screenplays to Million Dollar Baby, The Next Three Days, Casino Royale, and Quantum of Solace, as well as the teleplays to countless television series and cartoon shows. He still gets his directing fix from time to time, however, and his newest opus is the romantic drama Third Person.
Third Person follows the paths of three couples as they each struggle with their own seemingly unrelated troubles. In Paris, washed-up writer Michael (The Grey‘s Liam Neeson) juggles time between his estranged wife, Elaine (Grudge Match‘s Kim Basinger), and his muse, Anna (Olivia Wilde from Cowboys & Aliens). Meanwhile, in New York, ex-television star Julia (Ted‘s Mila Kunis) is locked in a heated custody battle for her six-year-old son with her ex-husband, Rick (James Franco from Oz the Great and Powerful). Then, in Italy, fashion industry thief Scott (The Grand Budapest Hotel‘s Adrien Brody) meets a mysterious woman named Monika (Moran Atias from the “Crash” T.V. series) who enlists his help in freeing her young daughter from the clutches of some seedy human traffickers. The three stories all share themes of love, heartbreak, and betrayal, but there’s something else that they have in common as well.
Although Third Person isn’t a complete mess, it’s not exactly a rousing success either. Paul Haggis appears to have a strong and distinct vision, and the direction is confident and tight. The film has a great cast, and the technical aspects are well done, but there’s something off about it. There’s nothing holding it together. The plot is disjointed and confusing, taking long stretches away from some characters while ramming others down the audience’s throat. There’s a strange pacing to the film as well, which only leads to more head-scratching. Certain scenes and sequences are very effective, even chillingly so, but those areas are few and far between. Third Person is a bit too ambitious for its own good, and the film just reeks of unfulfilled potential.
With Third Person, Haggis seems to be trying to recapture the essence of Crash. The problem is that Third Person is not Crash; the stories do not seamlessly flow together, and the characters do not effortlessly interact, so Third Person does not have the same single-minded, cohesive feeling as Crash. Third Person feels more like three independent stories happening simultaneously without any interaction between them. Individually, the stories aren’t half bad, but the way that they interrupt each other in the context of the film as a whole is tedious. There is an attempt to tie it all together at the end of the film, and it’s actually a pretty decent try, but by then it feels more like a cop-out than a clever ending. When the dust settles on Third Person, it’s just an anthology film that isn’t smart enough to behave like one.
Paul Haggis claims to have written over fifty drafts of the script for Third Person, but the finished screenplay doesn’t feel like it. It actually seems he spit out a first draft and shot that, without the benefit of a rewrite. The plot meanders and wanders, suffering from an unusual pacing that could be tightened up with a bit of editing. Most of all, it feels unfinished – like there’s a compelling story in there somewhere, just dying to get out, but it’s trapped within the bloated and padded indulgence of Haggis’ pretension.
One thing can be said for the script; Haggis still has a great ear for dialogue, and possesses a genuine knack for the subtle nuances that bring characters to life. In one scene, Michael is speaking to Elaine on the phone while Anna is in the room. Elaine asks if Anna is there, and Michael tells her that she isn’t. Elaine asks “would you tell me if she was?” to which Michael simply answers “she’s not here.” The exchange reveals a ton about both characters; Elaine still cares about Michael, yet doesn’t trust him as far as she can throw him, and Michael is willing to lie to Elaine about Anna’s presence, but not about lying about it. The storyline of Third Person might be cloudy and murky, but the conversations are clean and tight.
The storyline for Third Person may lack focus, but the characters really pop, and that’s mostly because of the stellar cast. Liam Neeson anchors the film with his performance as the talented-yet-tormented writer, and Olivia Wilde is a great foil to his sarcastic wit. Mila Kunis is especially convincing as well as the tortured mother who has been deemed unfit to care for her son, and James Franco makes the most of his limited screen time as her ex-husband who knows the exact buttons to push to get into her head. Adrien Brody and Moran Atias are both great, too, as is the supporting cast which includes veteran character actress Maria Bello (Prisoners) and French supermodel-turned-actress Loan Chabanol (Fading Gigolo). There is not a weak link in the cast. It’s a bit of a shame that these well-developed characters just seem to wander around trapped in the muddy waters of the plot, because the ensemble that portrays them is great.
Cast and Crew
- Director(s): Paul Haggis,,,
- Screenwriter(s): Paul Haggis
- Cast: Liam Neeson (Michael), Mila Kunis (Julia), James Franco (Rick), Olivia Wilde (Anna), Adrien Brody (Sean), Kim Basinger (Elaine), Maria Bello (Theresa), , , , ,
- Editor(s): Jo Francis
- Cinematographer: Gianfilippo Corticelli
- Production Designer(s):
- Costume Designer:
- Casting Director(s):
- Music Score: Dario Marianelli
- Music Performed By:
- Country Of Origin: USA