Film Review: Tedious ‘Third Person’ Focuses on the Self-Absorbed

Third Person 2Writer-Director Paul HaggisThird 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.

Third Person 1The 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.

Third Person 4I 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.

Third Person 3Haggis 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.

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About Evans Donnell

Evans Donnell is the chief theater, film and opera critic as well as co-founder of ArtsNash. He wrote reviews and features about theater, opera and classical music for The Tennessean from 2002 to 2011. He was the theater, film and opera critic for ArtNowNashville.com from 2011 to 2012. Donnell has also contributed to The Sondheim Review, Back Stage, The City Paper (Nashville), the Nashville Banner, The (Bowling Green, Ky.) Daily News and several other publications since beginning his professional journalism career in 1985 with The Lebanon (Tenn.) Democrat. He was selected as a fellow for the 2004 National Critics Institute at the Eugene O’Neill Theater Center, and for National Endowment for the Arts (NEA) arts journalism institutes for theater and musical theater at the USC Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism in 2006 and classical music and opera at the Columbia University School of Journalism in 2009. He has also been an actor (member of Actors Equity Association and SAG-AFTRA), founding and running AthensSouth Theatre from 1996 to 2001 and appearing in Milos Forman's "The People vs Larry Flynt" among other credits. Donnell is a member of the American Theatre Critics Association (www.americantheatrecritics.org).