Saturday, 3 November 2018

Movie Review: Third Person (2013)


A multi-story drama and romance, Third Person explores themes of loss and trust. While enjoying a spectacular cast in fine form, the pacing is lackadaisical and the narrative commonalities emerge too late.

The film presents three seemingly unrelated stories set in three different cities. At a Paris hotel, Michael (Liam Neeson) is a Pulitzer Award winning writer working on his latest book. He is separated from his wife Elaine (Kim Basinger) as they both deal with a family tragedy. Michael is joined in Paris by his lover Anna (Olivia Wilde), a vivacious aspiring writer. The relationship between Michael and Anna is passionate and tumultuous as she deals with a secret of her own.

In Rome, Scott (Adrien Brody) is an underhanded garment businessman, specializing in stealing and copying haute couture designs. Scott is still grieving a personal loss, and at bar he meets single mom Monika (Moran Atias). She needs money to rescue her daughter from human smugglers, and Scott finds himself irresistibly drawn to her plight.

In New York, Julia (Mila Kunis) is a perpetually late mother desperately working with her lawyer Theresa (Maria Bello) to win back the right to visit her young son. Julia was accused of harming her child, a charge she denies, but her artist husband Richard (James Franco) now has sole custody. Julia accepts a job as a hotel maid to make ends meet and to prove to a court psychologist that she deserves a chance to spend time with her son.

Written and directed by Paul Haggis, Third Person is tantalizingly close to being a good film, but unfortunately lands on the wrong side of emotionally static. The exploration of loss, yearning and the search for healing is worthwhile and handled with sensitivity. But all three stories start saddled with the heavy baggage of guilt, misfortune and grief, and that is where they stay. A few revelations work their way into the narratives, but the overarching cloud of gloom settles in early and never yields.

Given the prevailing lack of forward progression, at 137 minutes the film is too long. Haggis labours towards a final twist knotting the three stories together, but this is a case of genuinely bad timing. The final revelations tumble forth a few minutes before the end credits, and while the resolution is decent, it arrives well past the point of rescue.

Michael's fierce relationship with Anna is the central story, and works its way to the film's one startling moment. Scott's descent into Monika's world is more of a slow burn and a protracted case of who is playing who, and suffers from too much repetition. With more dedicated exposition, both chapters could be imagined as the basis for fine stand-alone films. In contrast Julia's struggle to prove herself worthy of visiting her son is remarkably slight and a relative mismatch in depth and quality.

The cast almost rescues the film, and the one benefit of the long running time is that many of the stars get to sink their teeth into the characters. Neeson and Wilde are most prominent, but Brody, Atias and Kunis all grab the substantive opportunities to shine.

Third Person looks for balms to help heal open wounds of guilt and regain lost trust. Regrettably, the long-winded routes to salvation prove to be tortuously dour.






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