By Gary Murray
Starring Liam Neeson, Olivia Wilde, Mila Kunis and Adrien Brody
Written and directed by Paul Haggis
Running time 137 min
MPAA Rating Cable
The third person is how most novels are written. Telling a story in such a way gives the writer the ability to show the thought processes of every character. Writing in first person really only gives inside to the character who is talking. In the film Third Person, we get to delve into the mind of a writer and writing.
Actually Third Person is three stories in three locations. One story takes place in Paris where a writer Michael (Liam Neeson) is trying to finish his novel. He has his mistress Anna (Olivia Wilde) visit while the dutiful wife (Kim Basinger) waits at home. Anna is a struggling writer and wants Michael’s approval. Michael won the Pulitzer Prize with his earlier work but this time the words are just not flowing. Also, Anna has her own deep dark secret.
The second story takes place in New York City where an actress Julia (Mila Kunis) is accused of a heinous crime by her husband Rick (James Franco). Her life is falling apart and she takes a job as a maid in a fancy hotel to make ends meet. Her lawyer Theresa (Maria Bello) is also dealing with personal problems and has little patience for the flaky actress known for crying on cue. Both seem to have deep dark secrets.
The last story is of an Italy-hating industrial fashion spy Scott (Adrien Brody) who has a mysterious encounter with an even more mysterious woman Monika (Moran Atias) in a Rome bar dubbed Americano. She is steadfast in trying to get money to a gangster who has her daughter. Through a mishap, Scott gets her purse. He becomes entangled in either a desperate victim situation or some kind of elaborate con. Everybody in this Italian area seems to have a deep dark secret.
The three stories are cross-cut to show how each develops into the other. The big last act reveal is how they all are tied together within the mind of the writer. The idea of creating characters that are so real has been done before and recently. Ruby Sparks did the entire idea much better and in a much more cleaver way. Third Person is just pretentious.
The film is directed and written by Paul Haggis, the man who crafted the brilliant 2004 cinematic masterwork Crash. It was also about interwoven storylines and flawed characters. Where that film felt original, this film feels dated. Over and over, the clues are given where elements of one story flow into another story, much the same way a collection of short stories by the same writer uses some of the same elements in different tales. There is a certain snob-appeal to the final product.
Out of this large cast, easily the best performance was given by Moran Atias. Her distraught mother rings with the most emotion and her reading is the most realistic. One is never sure of her ulterior motivations and the performance brings about the most genuine surprise.
It is shocking how dull both Adrien Brody and Liam Neeson are in the film. Both actors cannot seem to find the spark to make the performance work. They are just going through the motions without finding any of the emotions in their characters. It is a definite misfire for both actors and a waste of their talents.
And if anyone has ever wondered what Olivia Wilde looked like with no clothes on, here is the chance. On more than one occasion in the film, she wears nothing but her birthday suit.
Coming out of the film, there were conflicting emotions. Part of me felt as if I had been taken for a ride, conned out of my time. The other part of me felt as if I had seen some bad version of a John Irving story. Either way, the film is not as important as it thinks it is.
Third Person is an art house flick with limited appeal with the mass audience. It was made last year and is just now making its way to different independent theaters. Some may find a deeper meaning to everything presented, but in the end the film is just boring.