DIR/WRI: Paul Haggis • PRO: Paul Breuls, Paul Haggis, Michael Nozik • DOP: Gianfilippo Corticelli • ED: Jo Francis • DES: Laurence Bennett • MUS: Dario Marianelli • CAST: Liam Neeson, Mila Kunis, Adrien Brody, Olivia Wilde, James Franco
Cults pray on those of us who suffer from excessive feelings of disconnection and alienation. Paul Haggis, former Scientologist, wrote and directed 2004’s Crash, an Oscar-winning argument in favour of the existence of quasi-mystical ties that both connect and redeem humanity. Crash followed a group of individuals, including Matt Dillon’s glorious forehead, as they tottered across the faultlines of their various prejudices, each eventually arriving at something on the spectrum between an epiphany and just deserts. The film’s plot was contrived, its analysis of prejudice fatally unsophisticated; still, Haggis’ faith in the power of human engagement granted his characters a sort of grace. An inscrutable moral sense animated everyone, almost-but-not-quite saving them from two-dimensionality. It’s tempting to put it all down to a displacement of faith in wacky ‘religion’ to one in a Tao-flavoured personal spirituality.
Third Person is an attempted rejection of that worldview. This is by means of obfuscation, sleight-of-hand, and an oftentimes nearly incomprehensible plot. We only have three storylines to deal with, at least. A writer (Liam Neeson) is working on a book in Paris when his young lover (Olivia Wilde) visits; an ex-soap actress (Mila Kunis) battles her child’s artist father (James Franco) for custody of the boy; a shady American (Adrien Brody) tries to help Monica (Moran Atias) find her daughter in Rome’s underworld.
So far, so Magnolia – so Love Actually. The cast is obviously strong, and bits of the scenery are in Adrien Brody’s mouth at all times. Something like the same graceful inscrutability is there. Mila Kunis’ Julia is a substantial and often unsympathetic creation, and the question marks that hang over her motivations are unusual in mainstream cinema. She’s the only character whose flaws aren’t retrospectively absolved by one or other of Third Person’s plot twists, under the weight of which the film starts to groan about halfway in. The sleight of hand that is the purview of the director of ‘Hyperlink Cinema’ (Roger Ebert’s term) then starts to look like self-abuse. Even the cinematography gets noticeably sloppier as things progress – a major sign of a lack of control or of money, of a piece of cinema ‘saved in the edit.’ And Crash’s misogyny rears its balding head. “Women have the incredible gift of being able to deny any reality,” a fatherly figure tells Liam Neeson. Monica is Roma, a thief and possibly a prostitute, and, ahem, ‘feisty’ – thus an irredeemable stereotype. And the ending – if only it were a statement of disgusted protest to walk out of a film once it’s over.
Third Person isn’t as terrible as the consensus has decided, but that’s the best thing I can say about it.
15A (See IFCO for details)
Third Person is released 14th November 2014