Starring: Liam Neeson, Mila Kunis, Adrien Brody
Three love stories taking place simultaneously in three cities; a former award winning writer (Neeson), because of his past demons struggles to write his new book and with his relationship with his lover (Olivia Wilde). In New York a mother (Kunis) fights desperately for custody of her child with its father (James Franco), despite horrendous accusations against her that prevent her from gaining custody. In Rome a shady businessman (Brody) finds himself involved in an Albanian woman’s struggle to get her daughter free from local gangsters.
Paul Haggis’ multi stranded 2004 drama Crash winning best picture certainly came as a surprise to many, and there were certainly a fair few cynical opinions as to why it did win, well for his latest he has decided to once again go for what is referred to as a ‘network narrative’ (well, that is what my lecturer called it). Unfortunately making a film with this unique structure can pose many problems; ideally each individual story (in this case we have three) needs to develop in the same way as one story would, or they can be connected by a central theme. While with Crash we most certainly had the theme well and truly constantly rammed down our throats, with Third Person Haggis seems to attempt to explore the concept of both the creative process of narrative and storytelling, and how manipulative it may be.
Well, this is very tricky to get right and not just seem pretentious while disappearing up your own backside, this may possibly be a reason why Haggis really struggled to get the funding to make this film despite the cast list. Sadly when watching Third Person it becomes quite obvious as to why it had pretty much no critical or financial success; it is a rather dull, uninvolving and empty (not to mention way too long) melodrama.
Though Haggis’ intention to make a film that intelligently examines themes that may not necessarily appeal to mainstream audiences is admirable, he just truly struggles to get across the themes he is trying to explore, making for 137 minutes that really is a momentous effort to watch for scant reward.
Haggis is of course an accomplished filmmaker and Third Person is certainly watchable as it is written and directed with the utmost competence. However just how watchable Third Person happens to be is mainly down to the cynical casting of numerous big names, the reason I would claim this to be cynical is not only the fact it will potentially attract more viewers, but if we are watching actors we know then we do have an almost subconscious empathy and involvement with the characters they are playing, and Haggis certainly knows this.
To be fair to the cast, they all deliver solid performances; one of the good things about Third Person is that it serves as a nice reminder that Liam Neeson is still an actor and can still do drama. Neeson, in what is essentially the film’s main character, appears in the most scenes and is never anything than less than watchable. Mila Kunis, Olivia Wilde and Adrien Brody also get a lot of screen time and deliver committed performances, while the likes of James Franco, Kim Basinger and Maria Bello are also very good, but their characters get very little screen time to develop properly.
For its entire 137 minutes there is an atmosphere of mournful melancholy, which is only enhanced by Gianfilippo Corticelli’s sombre cinematography, and this is often something I am happy to embrace in a film, but our patience is poorly rewarded when all three stories reach their supposedly connected conclusion. Of course there is no way of knowing what compromises Paul Haggis had to make to get the funding and cast for Third Person, but though it ultimately has some potentially interesting ideas at its core, it really fails to examine them in a way that is either engaging or regarding to the viewer.
A true waste of a great cast and some great ideas; Third Person could have been a really engaging exploration of some truly interesting themes and ideas, but despite the solid performances from its big name cast, is unfortunately a dreary watch that takes a lot of effort and delivers almost no reward.