Written by Dania Syed
What To Expect
Paul Haggis is a highly illustrious name in the film industry. He is distinguished for writing some of the most critically acclaimed screenplays, celebrated as the first screenwriter to write two successive Best Picture Oscar winners – Million Dollar Baby and Crash – and is no stranger to successfully directing the films he writes – which again include Crash, and the Russell Crowe-starring crime drama, The Next Three Days.
Following his writing and directing success with Crash, he earned an admirable reputation for creating a neatly interwoven multi-plotline film. Bearing this in mind, one cannot be blamed for going in with such high expectations for yet another Paul Haggis feature boasting an ensemble cast. However, the less you expect another critical masterpiece in the form of Third Person, his current written and directed drama, the less disappointed you are likely to be by what is otherwise a very emotionally compelling film – for most of its duration anyway.
What’s It About
In Paris, Michael (Liam Neeson), is a prize-winning fiction author who has recently left his wife, Elaine (Kim Basinger), and has cocooned himself in a hotel suite in order to finish his latest book. He is visited by Anna (Olivia Wilde), an ambitious young writer who wants to be published, with whom he shares a very complex, on/off relationship.
In New York, Julia (Mila Kunis) is struggling to make ends meet after having lost custody of her 6-year-old son. She is accused of trying to kill him, a charge she vehemently denies. Her ex-husband, Rick (James Franco), a famous NYC artist, is doing everything in his power to keep their son away from her. His girlfriend, Sam (Loan Chabanol), is a compassionate onlooker as Julia’s lawyer, Theresa (Maria Bello), desperately battles to restore her right to see her son again.
In Rome, Scott (Adrien Brody) is a shady American businessman who rips off Italian fashion designs. He meets Monika (Moran Atias), an Italian gypsy, whose 8-year-old daughter is being held for ransom. Burdened by a secret of his own, he feels compelled to help her, and finds himself embedded in a dangerous web of the mafia gangsters and con artists, unable to decipher the real truth behind Monika’s missing daughter.
The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly
Love, trust and forgiveness are the centre of this film, with the shadow of the auxiliary third person being the titular linchpin of Paul Haggis’s intricately woven hierarchy of stories.
Gianfilippo Corticelli, who cinematographed the Penelope Cruz-starring controversial Italian film Venuto al mondo (Twice Born), is entrusted by Paul Haggis for capturing the emotional intimacy of his characters, and he delivers with some beautiful camerawork and character juxtaposition. Jo Francis, who has now edited Haggis’s last 3 films, capitalizes on the cinematography with some pristinely timed cuts that successfully escalate emotions – albeit in just some parts of the film. For those that can reach the depth, there are a few – I repeat, just a few – incredible surrealist turns in the film with scenes that are heart-warming in one story arousing goosebumps in another.
The film was not essentially a drag, but it was far longer in running time than it needed to be. The pace of the story particularly in the Rome narrative, involving Scott and Monika, prolongs and eventually gets – unsurprisingly – predictable and clichéd. While in their initial minutes the two’s understanding for one another brings out compassion, halfway through the plot their emotional conflicts (and resolutions) seem very forced, shallow, and frankly, annoying.
Haggis moves freely from story to story, at times attempting to blur the lines; but if you’re paying close attention to the film like I did, you’ll probably have almost the whole film figured out by half-time, well before the climax.
To Perform Or Not To Perform
Before Liam Neeson made a dramatic name for himself in the action scene with the likes of Taken, Batman Begins and The A-Team, he played more emotionally compelling roles in films like After.Life, Love Actually, and more famously, Schindler’s List. Seeing him step away from the thresholds of weapon-bolstering Atlas-like studs and reinforce himself as Michael, a late-middle-aged man struggling to cope with circumstances, is very refreshing. Needless to say, his booming voice and the authority with which he adds character to his roles is always a surefire win.
Olivia Wilde (TRON: Legacy), often written off as an exotic beauty – though she is – brings more than just peripheral eye candy to her character as she plays the emotionally gutted and cocky love interest of Michael.
Mila Kunis (Black Swan) is absolutely stunning with her Julia. Typically playing much softer roles in the past, her performance of a woman desperately trying to hold her life’s constantly imploding walls together is so fulfilling it will likely clench your heart in her story’s final act. James Franco (127 Hours) plays her ex-husband Rick and, although he deserves more screen-time, he indulges in his portrayal of a father struggling to foster a relationship with his son, unable to forgive the scars his ex-wife has left him with.
Adrien Brody (The Darjeeling Limited) starts off with his Scott with promise, but as the film progresses he becomes very statically linear, as does his character, much to the agitation of even a deeply engrossed viewer. Moran Atias, who has also featured in Haggis’s The Next Three Days and Crash, on the other hand, brings some respite with her Monika, as she struggles to battle society’s prejudice towards her, and her own trust issues.
Maria Bello (Secret Window), Kim Basinger (L.A. Confidential), and one-film-old Loan Chabanol (Fading Gigolo), provide ancillary support (or complications) to the characters, subtly revealing a hidden dimension in their plots.
Third Person boasts a strong cast and some noteworthy performances, particularly from Kunis and Neeson. Despite that and some soul-stirring moments, the film is hampered by unsuccessful execution of an otherwise decently crafted plot. Where Haggis went wrong, I cannot specifically put my finger on. However, despite not being a great film, it is certainly an ambitious one – not for those seeking a mere Notebook-type summer romance. Is it a failure? Superficially, maybe. But a glorious one, and not in its oxymoronic sense.
Rating: 2.5 / 5