Film review: Third Person is a convoluted yet compelling collection of fragments
“Third Person”, Oscar-winner Paul Haggis’s latest offering, is an experiment of intricately woven together Aronofsky-like vignettes, perhaps too convoluted for his all-star cast to hold together. Despite the cast, ratings and box office earnings certainly fell far behind other art house flicks in release, like Jalil Lespert’s “Yves Saint Laurent” (I wonder what that’s about) and David Michôd’s “The Rover” (I still don’t know what that’s about).
If you do endeavor to see this film in theaters, plan to stay in your seat for the entire ride otherwise a trip to the bathroom or concession stand will most likely result in you getting totally lost in the film’s tangled trio of stories upon your return.
We’ve seen strong vignette storytelling from Haggis’s previous triumph “Crash” (2005), but this layered story doesn’t have such an excellent pay off for viewers.
Though you may faithfully sit through the whole two-and-a-half hour run-around, you still leave the theater with at least a dozen crucial plot questions.
While it does take some time to figure out, Haggis’s narratives are in fact connected by themes, the strongest being child negligence, loss of trust in romantic relationships, and betrayal. For the most part, you leave the theater thinking women are completely irresponsible, unstable head-cases who should not be mothers.
The first storyline is that of Liam Neeson’s character, a Pulitzer-prize winning author who’s lost his stuff, paired with his lover Anna, Olivia Wilde, a competitive entertainment writer. The witty banter between the two walking down the streets of Paris is probably one of the film’s highlights.
The second would be strong emotional performances from Mila Kunis in her portrayal of Julia, a woman desperately trying to win back visitation rights to see her son after a suffocation accident. Her raw, eye twitchy confessions and vulnerable moments is some of her strongest acting since “Black Swan” (2010).
She is joined by a grumpy James Franco who plays the role of her unforgiving artist ex-husband, Rick. Kunis’s frustrated legal counsel who’s afraid of her swimming pool, played by Maria Bello, thinly connects us to the third vignette starring Adrien Brody and a vivacious Moran Atias.
Brody, a rip-off Italian clothing designer, who despises Italy, gets swept up in the con-scheme of Atias' “The Next Three Days” (2010). Well, at least that’s what it looks like, we’re never really sure.
Though every actor was well-directed and took chances with their roles, we never know what truly happens in any of the vignettes.
And then to throw in the motherlode, Haggis decides to take away the stability of Neeson’s vignette, the most recurring one that the audience previously felt most certain about.
Perhaps the only character we can actually trust is Neeson’s depressed truth-seething wife, Kim Bassinger, who has roughly ten minutes of screen time total.
Though the locations of each story are pretty identical (for sound plot reasons), the movie flows from New York, to Paris, to Italy in a digestible manner.
Much like “Crash”, the film runs the course of an emotion and takes us with it. The scene edits accelerate to give us a sense of pull and build as each of Haggis’s equally interesting narratives reach the peak of their crises. And while the audience is really lacking the smidgen of necessary character context and background, the film holds your interest right up until its barely clarified reveal.
We’ve seen Haggis do novel-style vignette films before and maybe this once didn’t really work out so well, but despite this the emotion and psychological complexity absolutely keeps your eyes glued to the screen.
It is clear that there is a lot of potential left in Haggis's combination of penmanship and lens.