In this film about love and relationships, Michael (Liam Neeson) and Anna (Olivia Wilde) meet in a Paris hotel, and try to avoid the secret Anna is keeping. In New York, Julia (Mila Kunis) is trying to regain custody of her son after being accused of attempted murder. In Rome, Scott (Adrien Brody) meets a beautiful woman in a bar, and is drawn into her complicated and dangerous world.
It has been three years since we have had a film from Paul Haggis, the award winning screenwriter of Million Dollar Baby, Crash and Casino Royale. With Third Person, Haggis has once again gathered together a strong ensemble cast to tell a fragmented story leading up to a whole. Perhaps he is trying to emulate the success of Crash, but something gets lost in translation here.
As mentioned, the cast is stellar, with Liam Neeson, James Franco, Olivia Wilde, Adrien Brody, Mila Kunis and Maria Bello turning up throughout the film. It’s great to see Neeson step back into the type of role that made him famous long before he was an action star, Wilde convincingly portrays a woman who swings from delight to despair, Kunis shows a fragile and vulnerable side as a woman trying to get her life back together; Brody is surprisingly funny and warm and James Franco dials everything down to play a vindictive father and ex-partner. Each gives their all, in their own way, and it is the performances that make the film watchable and enjoyable. Sadly, all of this good is let down by Haggis’ script.
As screenwriter, it is fairly obvious that Haggis is hoping that lightning will strike twice with Third Person, but there are several problems with the script; firstly, all the women in the film are either, crazy, liars or con artists and, while the actors do their best to make the characters believable, Kunis is really the only one to come out of this on top, and with audience sympathy on her side. Haggis also touches on some very uncomfortable topics, and never fully fleshes any of them out, so concerned is the screenplay in hammering home the similarities between the stories – they all begin with water, they all struggle with the influence of a ‘third person’ and they all concern dysfunction around a child in some way – that none of them is ever given the chance to breathe. The ending is so startlingly self-conscious that the audience is unsure whether to laugh or weep for the 137 minutes spent watching the film.
As director, Haggis has created believable worlds and got fantastic performances from his characters. He also manages to weave the stories together in such a way that for all the film’s faults; it is still watchable and enjoyable… To a point. The running time is a definite detraction from the film as a whole though, as each story feels unnecessarily drawn out.
Third Person seems like Paul Haggis’ attempt to recreate the Crash lightning in a bottle, and sadly fails. The cast give strong performances, but with dangerous and unstable female characters and a painfully self-conscious ending, Third Person feels incredibly unsatisfying.