By Bill Wine
KYW Newsradio 1060
PHILADELPHIA (CBS) — Crash soared. But Third Person crashes. Or at least stumbles.
Both come from writer-director Paul Haggis. But whereas Crash, the screenwriter’s triumphant directing debut, was an incisive multi-story drama about race and class that went on to become the 2005 Oscar winner for best picture, his latest, although similarly structured, is problematic.
Like Crash, Third Person is a connect-the-dots ensemble tapestry of interlocking stories and relationships that doesn’t reveal its ultimate pattern until the late stages.
But whereas we exited Crash appreciating that the Los Angeles-set melodrama had withheld information from us for reasons that made sense once it was over, in this trio of tales set in Paris, Rome, and New York, that approach fails to satisfy.
Third Person, despite an intriguing opening and numerous compelling individual moments, demands patience from us without sufficiently rewarding it by film’s end.
Liam Neeson plays a Pulitzer Prize-winning novelist visiting the City of Lights in hopes of breaking through a severe case of writer’s block so he can finally finish his new book. With his wife (played by Kim Basinger) back home, he’s also having a tempestuous affair with a much younger woman, a mercurial entertainment journalist and aspiring novelist (played by Olivia Wilde) who also shows up at the door of his chic Paris hotel room so that their bantering and what comes after can commence.
And much of what they have to say to one another will inevitably turn up in his novel.
Meanwhile, an unscrupulous American corporate fashion spy (Adrien Brody), who steals original designs from Italian fashion houses and then knocks them off in Asia for a fraction of the cost, sits in a dive in Rome called “Bar Americano” and strikes up a flirtatious conversation with a fetching and troubled Romanian Gypsy, played by Moran Atias (one of the film’s many producers). She’s got a soap opera story to tell about being involved with the criminal element and a daughter she hasn’t seen for a long time, and her predicament seems to compel him and wash away his usually selfish instincts.
But one or both of them may be inventing details about themselves because of some hidden agenda.
And -– meanwhile again, but this time in New York City -– a failed soap opera actress and divorcée (played by Mila Kunis) who has been accused of child neglect and is now separated from her child struggles to make ends meet by working as a hotel chambermaid and seeks advice from her exasperated lawyer (Maria Bello), who is attempting to gain her visitation rights by appealing to the better nature of her client’s ex-husband (James Franco), a wary artist who paints with his hands instead of brushes.
He might be willing to compromise his stance, but first he demands a confession/apology from his ex.
The connective tissue that binds these three scenarios together comes later. Too late, as it turns out. But what the stories have in common in this guessing game are the various kinds of damage that negligent parents can do, inadvertently or not, to their children.
And without introducing any spoilers into the mix about the connection among and between these three narratives, let’s at least remind anyone interested that the protagonist is indeed a writer. Enough said.
Haggis’ watchable cast gets our hopes up as we proceed, but his script fails to build to an embraceable resolution.
So we’ll author 2 stars out of 4. After the third story helps to get the film off to its third involving start, the metaphorically titled interlocking puzzle Third Person falls apart in the third act.
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