I kept watching “Third Person” with curiosity, despite the inner voice in my head chiding me. The plot is disjointed, the dialogue is clumsy, and some of the acting is sub-par, yet I found myself involved with some of the characters and wanted to know the film’s outcome.
“Third Person” is written and directed by Paul Haggis, the award-winning filmmaker who, in 2006, became the first screenwriter to write two Best Film Oscar winning films back-to-back, “Million Dollar Baby” (2004) directed by Clint Eastwood, and “Crash” (2005) which he directed himself.
As in “Crash,” this new film has three separate stories with intersecting themes and plots. The characters have had life-shattering experiences involving death or injury to their children, destroyed marriages, breaches of trust or failed loves. The three male roles, played by Liam Neeson, Adrien Brody and James Franco, live with regret. Olivia Wilde, Mila Kunis and Moran Atias have secondary parts as their characters orbit around the men.
Liam Neeson (the “Taken” series of action movies) plays a 50-ish Pulitzer-Prize winning writer, Michael, who has left his wife (Kim Basinger) and is holed up in an elegant Paris hotel room, attempting the new novel that will resurrect his failing career. Constantly writing and editing, Michael struggles with his book. As we watch him write, some of his conversations appear verbatim on his computer. Here we may be wondering whether we are viewing fragments of his novel come alive or whether his writing is more nonfiction than one would think.
Joining him is young, mean-spirited, slightly sadistic, woman friend, ambitious journalist, Anna (well-done by Olivia Wilde, “People Like Us”). Not only does she toy with him and keep him off-balance and insecure, but she also has another older lover, whose surprise identity explains a lot about her. Their love-making is passionate, but I wish Neeson had kept on his clothes.
Adrien Brody (“the Pianist”) shines as Scott, a crooked businessman, in Rome to buy stolen fashion designs. While stopping at a seedy bar, he meets Monika (Moran Atias) a seductive Roma woman with a probably concocted con-job of a story about her daughter being held hostage by a trafficker. But Scott finds himself attracted to Monika and her tale of woe to the point of abandoning his jaded identity in order to help her, betting his savings and his life on a longshot chance at love.
Brody’s subtle acting is in contrast to the ubiquitous James Franco’s disappointing performance. Franco plays a successful New York artist and vengeful former husband who has claimed sole custody of his son after his now poverty-stricken ex, histrionically acted by Mila Kunis (“The Black Swan”), is accused of harming their son. Kunis does little but cry and moan as she fails to take the necessary steps to retain some custody rights. Franco, who has worked before with Haggis in “In the Valley of Elah” (2007), seemed to have phoned in this performance. His stilted and inexpressive demeanor may have been intended to convey his character’s angry jealousy, but it comes off as merely wooden acting.
As the stories thinly interweave, Kunis, working as a hotel maid in New York City, enters into Liam Neeson’s Paris hotel room. Are we in New York or Paris? Are we viewing strands of a writer’s imagination? The characters struggle to overcome their lives’ regrets and salvage a bit of future happiness held my interest until the film’s unsatisfying conclusion.
© Emily S. Mendel 2014 All Rights Reserved