Directed by: Paul Haggis
Starring: Liam Neeson, Mila Kunis, Adrien Brody, Olivia Wilde, James Franco, Moran Atias, Maria Bello, Kim Basinger
Whenever a writer is the focal point of a piece of drama, it always sets alarm bells ringing. Is this a confessional from its author? In the case of Third Person, it seems writer/director Paul Haggis would like us to think so. Here, Liam Neeson plays a novelist, Michael, once the toast of high society (are writers really still the toast of the town in 2014?), whose work has been getting increasingly worse over the years. His newest effort sees him accused of using his characters to make amends for his wrongdoings in life.
Michael is holed up in a Parisian hotel room (because where else would a writer lock himself away?), struggling with his latest work when his young lover, Anna (Wilde), herself an aspiring writer, arrives from the States. The two enjoy a combatively teasing relationship, purposely but playfully aggravating one another. When Michael tells Anna he has finally left his wife (Basinger), she flips out, claiming she can no longer trust him, as who is to say he won't walk out on her in the same way?
In Rome, American swindler Scott (Brody) stops off in a small café bar for a drink before flying home. There he encounters a stunning gypsy woman, Monika (Atias), who is abrasive at first but gradually warms to him when he buys her drinks. When she leaves, Scott discovers she has left behind a handbag, one that contains €5000. She returns looking for the bag, which Scott returns, minus the money. After being accused of theft, Scott agrees to replace the money with his own when Monika tells him she needs it to buy her daughter's freedom from prostitution. Worrying for her safety, Scott insists on accompanying Monika to make the trade.
In New York, former soap star Julia (Kunis) is working as a hotel chambermaid, her career ended following her painter husband Rick's (Franco) accusing her of attempting to murder their son. Denying the charge, Julia is in the process of arranging a custody hearing with the aid of her lawyer (Bello), but circumstances keep conspiring against her.
Back in the days of exploitation filmmaking, it was common for the footage of two or more cancelled movie projects to be cut together in a haphazard fashion, usually with some extra footage shot in a clumsy attempt at linking disparate plots together. Watching Third Person, it's all too easy to think this may be a similar case; that Haggis had three separate script ideas but, unable to make each work on its own terms, he decided to blend them together in anthology fashion.
Taken on their own terms, two of the three stories work just fine, the New York strand being the one that feels the weakest. Thanks to the chemistry between Neeson and Wilde, and Brody and Atias, the other two stories maintain our attention just fine. It's in attempting to link the three together that Haggis enters the realm of pretension, as it becomes clear that each of the characters represent different facets of each other, and may be the fictional creations of Neeson's novelist, who may himself be one of his own creations. Confused? Take a number. The result is a movie that plays for the most part like a straight multi strand drama before turning into a poor man's David Lynch knock-off in its final act.
By Eric Hillis