TIFF 2013: Third Person – Movie Review
Director: Paul Haggis
Writer: Paul Haggis
Actors: Liam Neeson, Mila Kunis, Adrien Brody, James Franco, Olivia Wilde, Maria Bello, Kim Basinger, Moran Atias
Run Time: 130 min.
A story of love and loss reflected through three different sets of people, in three different cities, each with a sort of love-triangle. This sets the premise of Paul Haggis’ next “everyone-is-connected” story, Third Person. His last feature, Crash, was an effective, heart-pounding, and profound film. Third Person, on the other hand, tries to deal with equally compelling issues, but does so in a way that is contrived and leaves one puzzled by the end. The story reveals itself in a way that an invested viewer will understand, but it also leaves a lot of questions as to why Haggis chooses to trick the audience in the way that he does.
There are three main narratives in the film, but the balance between them is non-existent. The film centers on Michael (Liam Neeson), a writer who is working on his latest novel in a Paris hotel room. He is visited by his lover Anna (Olivia Wilde), and the complications of their relationship are both constant and confusing. Their story is mysterious for the most part, and certain questions are never really answered. The same problems occur for the other two trios in the film. It is evident that Michael has left his wife to be with Anna, but there is still something left unsaid about Anna and Michael‘s relationship that keeps their romance from ever really being able to succeed.
Another prominent story is that of Sean and Monika (Adrien Brody and Moran Atias), a couple who meet at a bar. The performances by these two actors are the stand-outs of the film, and despite the seriousness of their story, it still allows for comedic relief. Brody plays Sean as a somewhat goofy and lovable character whose heart is maybe just a little too caring for this strange woman. Atias, who is also a producer on the film, gives a great performance as Monika, a woman whom we never know if we can trust. Trust becomes a vital theme of the film, as with so many questions left unanswered and so many character motivations unexplained, it is hard to know on whom we can rely.
The third story is also the most confusing, and is of Mila Kunis playing Julia, a woman who has been accused of trying to harm her son who is now in the custody of her ex (James Franco) and his girlfriend. Kunis shines in her first truly dramatic role. Although this story feels rather brushed over, it delivers some of the most intense moments and keeps the audience guessing. This story has a lot of compelling elements, so it is unfortunate that the screenplay is so uneven between the three main story lines, and that it feels rushed and unexplained.
As the film takes place in three cities: Paris, New York and Rome, it offers beautiful cinematography and allows for each city to play a role in the story. However, the actual nature of the film and the plot also make the locations a bit confusing. The musical score is beautiful and it also changes depending on the city, each place giving the music a bit of a cultural touch.
Paul Haggis has put together another stellar cast, and all of the performances are good for what they have to do. However, due to a lack of character development (which has a reasoning in itself), it is hard to really follow the stories or to even really get invested in these characters. The film being the jumble of plot lines, characters, and ideas that it is, it is difficult for it to have the emotional impact that it might have had if it were more focused. There is a big twist at the end of the film, and there are many confusing elements that simply make no sense until the final credits role. Even so, the film still can be quite puzzling, and it would take multiple viewings to really put it together. Certain interpretations can be made after one viewing and for the most part, it can be figured out. It seems as though Haggis has purposely tried to make a film that will confuse you and keep you guessing, but the reward in the end is not really worth the frustration the rest of the film may put you through.
Third Person is an entertaining film. It is funny, it is dramatic, and it has great performances throughout. The ending and its big twist at first seems clever, but after some thought it feels a bit contrived. The film creates investment in some of these characters, and leaves too little explained about others, but the way they all come together is not completely as genius as it first seems. If the anchoring story of Michael and Anna had been more focused and explained, the rest may have fallen into place more naturally. While the film tries to be too many things at once, it does achieve some level of a meditation on love and loss; sadly though, by being too much of a puzzle, the essential meaning is lost.
Photo Credits: Toronto International Film Festival (Cover) and Emirates 24/7 (Article Photos)