Movies

Review: 'Third Person'

Two stars

Oscar-winning screenwriter Paul Haggis ("Crash") raises navel-gazing to an art form with "Third Person," a "Crash"-y, borderline trashy entry in the genre of global interlocking stories.

Those who scoffed at "Crash" will have even more to sniff at here, and the Best Picture's defenders may think twice after slogging through the 137 minutes of "Third Person." Haggis also directs and produces. Holding the film's center is Liam Neeson, as Pulitzer-winning fiction writer Michael. Having recently split with his wife Elaine (Kim Basinger), Michael carries on with journalist and aspiring author Anna (Olivia Wilde) in his Parisian hotel suite, even as he struggles with exploiting the lives of his loved ones (and himself) as fodder for his art. The film is at its best, and most comfortable, in this milieu, with its most obvious Haggis surrogate in Michael.

Meanwhile, in Rome, sarcastic small-time businessman Scott (Adrien Brody) plays the part of ugly American, seeking comfort food at the "Cafe Americano." There he befriends -- or becomes the mark for -- a beautiful Roma woman named Monika (Moran Atias), who eventually spills that she's desperate for cash to ransom her 8-year-old daughter from traffickers. In the New York story, former soap actress Julia (Mila Kunis) nears the end of her rope as she takes her last shot at resolving a child custody case hinging on an allegation of child abuse. The father of her 6-year-old child, ex-husband and aspiring artist Rick (James Franco) won't give an inch to Julia or her sympathetic lawyer Theresa (Maria Bello).

Did I mention that Scott and Michael also have (or had?) young children? The stories all rhyme in circumstances and themes, in ways that will drive some viewers up the wall. To a one, these are damaged people tying to overcome their own deep-seated flaws and break down the defenses of those they want to love. At times, Haggis's stylistic choices feel cliched, from the faux-Philip Glass of the opening montage to the slo-mo and Euro-accordion that introduce Monika. But it's also possible it's all part of Haggis's game in a film that immediately begs the question "All right, what is he playing at?"

The puzzle-piece structure eventually makes a picture, or at least reveals the gimmick. Figuratively and literally, "Third Person" is as much about the writer's process as anything else (Haggis self-deprecatingly winks at the audience when Michael's agent opines "Now you have random characters making various excuses for your life"). But the tasteful austerity of style and solid performances can't overcome a script that stands between emotional humanity and the viewer. The sense of intellectual remove can be conceptually interesting, but it makes for a very long, often frustrating journey to a destination not a fraction as appealing as New York, Paris or Rome.

Rated R for language and some sexuality/nudity. Two hours, 17 minutes.

Comments

There are no comments yet. Please share yours below.

Post a comment

Posting an item on Town Square is simple and requires no registration. Just complete this form and hit "submit" and your topic will appear online. Please be respectful and truthful in your postings so Town Square will continue to be a thoughtful gathering place for sharing community information and opinion. All postings are subject to our TERMS OF USE, and may be deleted if deemed inappropriate by our staff.

We prefer that you use your real name, but you may use any "member" name you wish.

Name: *

Select your neighborhood or school community: * Not sure?

Choose a category: *

Since this is the first comment on this story a new topic will also be started in Town Square! Please choose a category that best describes this story.

Comment: *

Verification code: *
Enter the verification code exactly as shown, using capital and lowercase letters, in the multi-colored box.

*Required Fields

Early Decision Blues
By John Raftrey and Lori McCormick | 0 comments | 2,350 views

One night only: ‘Occupy the Farm’ screening in Palo Alto
By Elena Kadvany | 1 comment | 2,201 views

Death with Dignity
By Chandrama Anderson | 3 comments | 1,398 views

10 Tried and True Ways to Increase Happiness
By Caroline Fleck | 2 comments | 560 views

With a Perspective....
By Ms. Jenson | 0 comments | 483 views