Movie Review: “Third Person” Flounders In Its Last Act

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Review by James McDonald

Three interlocking love stories involving three couples in three cities: Rome, Paris, and New York.

***SPOILERS AHEAD***

Robert Altman, the late filmmaker who directed such films as “Gosford Park”, “Short Cuts” and “The Player”, was known as an actor’s director, someone who held in great esteem, the age-old imitative art and one who refined a phenomenal degree of respect for his actors. “Third Person’s” writer and director Paul Haggis, is another filmmaker who obviously prides himself on his capability to connect with performers in a vocabulary they understand and I say this because it is quite evident in his work. Mr. Haggis wrote and directed 2004’s ensemble-piece “Crash”, for which he took home the Oscar for Best Original Screenplay. He has the proficiency and ingenuity to create believable characters but what’s more, convincing and credible dialogue.

How many times have you watched some of Hollywood’s biggest stars, deliver dialogue that sounded like it was written by first-graders? It doesn’t matter how good your actors are, what matters most, is your script. With the right soliloquy, your actors can elevate their character’s emotions and temperaments to the next level and make them sound like the average, regular person, which is really the desired effect when making a realistic and pragmatic film. Mr. Haggis is a genius in this department, just watch “Crash” or “In the Valley of Elah” for proof of that. In “Third Person”, Liam Neeson plays Michael, a Pulitzer Prize-winning author who is trying to finish his latest novel. He moves to Paris, to get away from his wife Elaine (Kim Basinger) so he can work in private, without interruption.

While there, his mistress Anna (Olivia Wilde) appears and although she is staying in a separate room on a different floor, neither can get enough of each other. We are also introduced to Scott (Adrien Brody), a shady American businessman who is in Rome on business. He wanders into a bar where he meets the beautiful Monica (Moran Atias) and in no time, he falls for her. Through a series of events, she tells him that her eight year-old daughter has been kidnapped by smugglers and is being held for ransom so he sets out to help her, taking everything out of his savings but gradually, he begins to question the whole situation and feels that he is being set-up. Then we have Julia (Mila Kunis), a young woman who lives in New York City who has just been charged with attempted murder of her young son Jesse (Oliver Crouch).

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She furiously denies these charges but because of the court’s ruling, he is now in the custody of his father Rick (James Franco), a famous artist who is doing everything in his power so that she will never have visitation rights but she will stop at nothing to try and reclaim custody. What Haggis does so beautifully with the film, is introduce these characters and their respective situations and we literally glide from one narrative to the next so effortlessly, that half the time you don’t realize it until the next character appears onscreen. We care about each of the characters because they are real people living in real situations that we can relate to.

Where everything falls down however, is in the last act, as the movie advances towards its finale. Haggis deliberately tries to confuse us, intermittently, with subtle cuts between scenes. Julia works as a maid in a New York hotel and while taking a phone call, she scribbles down an address on a piece of paper and then hastily leaves the room, leaving it behind. We then cut to Michael, back in his hotel in Paris who uses the exact same piece of paper, to write down a phone number. Slight idiosyncrasies like this occupy the movie and you slowly wonder if you’re losing your mind or if the film’s editor forgot how to assemble footage together. But then the film’s big conclusion forces you to question everything you just witnessed and the slow realization that each of the characters and their scenarios, are all just a figment of Michael’s imagination.

Characters and narratives that he conceived in order to finish his book. Then you wonder if Anna is even real and as you think back over the past two hours, you find yourself feeling cheated, at the fact that you genuinely invested in and cared about these people only to find out that they never existed. And as I sit here, writing this review, I am playing the movie back in my own mind and I still can’t comprehend who or what was real and what was fabricated. And that makes me mad. If I wanted to watch a mind-bending story that forces you to question what’s real or not, I’d watch “Total Recall”. I just hope that Mr. Haggis’ next movie will bring him back to his former notable self.

In select theaters July 2nd

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James McDonald
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