September 11, 2013



There is a reason, or at least an argument, for why almost everything in Paul Haggis’s THIRD PERSON feels synthetic and contrived–but I can’t make it here, because doing so would expose the film’s purported surprises.  And I’m not sure it really matters anyway, since even though, after the fact, one might be able to “justify” the hollowness of the exercise, it still makes for well over two hours of swank nonsense while you’re watching it.

Third Person retains the overlapping multiple-story structure that hit the motherlode for Haggis with Crash (although this time the stories are related more thematically than geographically), but adds to it a high-concept overlay that’s meant to be a revelation, although there are enough clues scattered around that the general outline isn’t all that hard to figure out.  This much can be said:  Third Person offers three stories, set in Paris, Italy and New York, all of which come to involve, in one way or another, issues of trust within a relationship, and terrible things that happen to children.  There are reasons for such thematic similarity–but again, any explanation would be a spoiler.

In any case, the Paris story concerns Pulitzer-Prize winning writer Michael (Liam Neeson) and his teasingly taunting romance with younger lover Anna (Olivia Wilde).  He’s flown her over (“on points”) to be with him, but she’s an aspiring writer herself, and while she refuses to commit to him (she takes her own hotel room and leaves Michael to meet a mysterious man one night), he indulges his greater authority over her in the literary field.  Meanwhile, in Italy, industrial spy Sean (Adrien Brody) becomes embroiled with mysterious and gorgeous Monika (Moran Atias), who claims to be trying to recover her lost daughter and who may or may not be running a scam on him (and Sean may not be completely honest with her, either).  In New York, former soap actress Julia (Mila Kunis) now works as a hotel housekeeper, her life in ruins since ex-husband Rick (James Franco) has taken custody of their son after something she may or may not have done, and she desperately tries to regain at least some right to see her child.  Bits and pieces of each story turn up in the others–a note that Julia writes in New York appears, for example, on Michael’s desk in Paris.

Much of this is fairly entertaining, especially the Michael/Anna tale, which features lots of witty banter and a very strong performance by Wilde, who after this and her fine work in the recent indie Drinking Buddies is earning notice for more than the obvious reasons that have driven most of her previous movie roles. (Although with respect to the obvious reasons, fans of Mr. Skin won’t want to miss this particular chapter either.)  The Italy story is fun for a while, but undercut by its own silliness, a series of twists that have no grounding.  And although Kunis is excellent in the New York portion, that story is the sketchiest of the three, just this side of incoherent for most of its length.  To the extent, though, that Haggis wants us to buy any of the stories as existing in a believable “reality,” he fails–although, as noted above, perhaps he didn’t intend that at all, and we’re supposed to feel each story’s strings being yanked all along.

The intercutting format allows for a fairly brisk pace despite the 134-minute running time (the editing is by Jo Francis, who’s worked on all of Haggis’s post-Crash projects), and the score by Dario Marianelli keeps things hopping as well.  Gianfilippo Corticelli has provided high-class glossy photography, and much of the action takes place in a series of impressively fancy hotel rooms, designed by Laurence Bennett.  None of the stories in Third Person, though, are successful as free-standing entities–the film only works if the last reel clicks things into place satisfyingly, and for reasons that can’t be described fully here, that doesn’t happen.  The  answer to “what’s really going on” is pat and superficial, and while it more or less holds together, it doesn’t do so in a way that’s nearly as meaningful as Haggis intends it to be.  It’s a concept that’s ultimately without much of a point.


About the Author

Mitch Salem
MITCH SALEM has worked on the business side of the entertainment industry for 20 years, as a senior business affairs executive and attorney for such companies as NBC, ABC, USA, Syfy, Bravo, and BermanBraun Productions, and before that, at the NY law firm of Weil, Gotshal & Manges. During all that, he has more or less constantly been going to the movies and watching TV, and writing about both since the 1980s. His film reviews also currently appear on and In addition, he is co-writer of an episode of the television series "Felicity."