Writer-Director Paul Haggis’ Third Person provides the umpteenth example of why success in art, no matter who’s involved, is never a sure thing. The gifted man behind Crash and In the Valley of Elah is back with a film full of fine actors where three stories “of love, passion, trust and betrayal” (to quote the press kit) are very tenuously connected to form a 137-minute movie that seems much longer.
Why? Because most of the characters care so much for themselves that they don’t need anyone else to care. While there are attempts to explain and even redeem some of these naval-gazers those efforts are too little, too late to save this flick. That’s a shame given the fine talents of those involved.
The story is set in three well-known locales – in Paris there’s a self-absorbed writer (Liam Neeson) and his childish I-have-daddy-issues mistress (Olivia Wilde); in Rome there’s a corporate spy who plays the Ugly American card with relish (Adrien Brody) but hooks up with a very needy local con artist (Moran Atias); in New York we find a narcissistic artist (James Franco) and the it’s-never-my-fault former mate with whom he’s waging a custody battle (Mila Kunis). Also included are an impatient attorney who apparently doesn’t get paid by the hour (Mario Bello) and a wronged wife who strangely wants to both support and trash her husband (Kim Basinger). Whew! The press kit notes that Franco’s current squeeze, played by former supermodel Loan Chabanol, is a “compassionate onlooker,” but the problem is that’s all she does – I’ve never seen one performer give so many variations on a pained expression of sympathy in one movie.
I keep referring to the press kit because it is the Rosetta Stone for this car-wreck of a feature: Atias “suggested a multi-plotline film about love and relationships” to Haggis while they were working on his most recent film, 2010’s The Next Three Days. Apparently he decided the structure from the Academy Award-winning Crash and the number three from his last movie could be successfully recycled for this dysfunctional outing, along with some trite verbiage (at one point Neeson’s character types “White. The color of trust. It’s the color of honesty. And the color of the lies he tells himself.”). I wouldn’t be surprised if the discussions they had were more interesting than the disjointed final result.
Haggis is normally a great storyteller (he even helped the James Bond series come alive again with his script contributions to Casino Royale in 2006). The cast he’s assembled is terrific individually, but as a unit on this script they play so many self-absorbed notes that Third Person is just tedious.
Third Person opens in Nashville today exclusively at Regal Green Hills Stadium 16 (click on the location to see showtimes and buy tickets). It is rated R for language and some sexuality/nudity; the film runs 137 minutes.
*Photos by Maria Marin Courtesy of Sony Pictures Classics.