Scene on Film: ‘Third Person’

June 27, 2014
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Liam Neeson and Olivia Wilde in “Third Person.”

Liam Neeson and Olivia Wilde in “Third Person.”

Rated R

By Joan Ellis

Director Paul Haggis has built “Third Person” on faulty assumptions about his audience.

He asks far too much of us. Given a film with barely any structure, we are left to follow three stories as best we can without any guidelines or even implied connections.

After trying and failing to unravel the characters during a very long movie, which will be release on Friday, July 11, we find we don’t really care about any one of them. A further complication: One story unfolds in America, one in Paris, one in Rome, but in most scenes the only way we know where we are is when we catch a glimpse of the Empire State Building or the Eiffel Tower through the window of a dingy apartment. This movie is not notable for its scenery.

Try this. First couple: Michael (Liam Neeson) won a Pulitzer for his first novel years ago and is struggling with a new book that is lying dead on the page. He has left his wife Elaine (Kim Basinger) for his new lover, Anna (Olivia Wilde), a journalist who wants to write fiction. She is freezing cold, nasty except for the times she jumps into Michael’s naked arms for steamy sex after which they both return to their normal state of war by cynical accusation.

Julia (Mila Kunis), a former soap opera actress, is an emotional wreck because Rick, her ex (James Franco), won’t let her see their son. Understanding why is not a stretch. Rick’s girlfriend, Sam (Loan Chabanol), is an understanding observer.

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Scott (Adrien Brody) hates Italy where he has gone to steal the drawings of fashion designers. He goes into an “American” bar hoping to find someone who speaks English and instead meets Monika (Moran Atias), an Italian whose daughter has perhaps been abducted and who needs both help and money.

Just try to find one person to root for in any one of these three stories. Each time we begin to feel the slightest empathy, Mr. Haggis throws a verbal twist that shuts down any emotional connection with a character. The sad part of all this is that the principals in each story are unpleasant people – period.

The studio publicity says “…a puzzle in which truth is revealed in glimpses and clues are caught by the corner of the eye and nothing is truly what it seems.”  They got that right.

Each of these stories has a peripheral mention of an endangered child, the supposed glue of the puzzle. A last-minute effort to tie it all together fails miserably. By then we are exhausted from trying to track the characters through an inexplicably disjointed landscape of flash cuts.

The sad thing about this is that all the actors in the terrific cast do their best to make things work, but the people they are creating are so unpleasant that our reaction can only be, “Who cares?”

Paul Haggis wrote and directed. He might want to consider a career switch.

Joan Ellis’ address on the Internet, which contains her review library, is




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