The Paul Haggis drama “Third Person” is, like his Oscar-winning “Crash,” a
series of interlocking stories. Each is fascinating , or at least interesting
its own right. Each is cast with more than capable actors.
Like “Crash,” the conceit that ties those tales together is a bit obvious.
And like “Crash,” it rambles on and on, unable or unwilling to develop an exit
strategy. His all-star-cast has to get its money’s worth, even at the expense of
the audience’s patience.
Liam Neeson is Michael, a married writer visiting Paris as a cure for
writer’s block, trying to carry on an affair would a would-be novelist, Anna
(Olivia Wilde). When he gets the call from the front desk announcing she’s shown
up, he puts us on our guard.
“Does she appear to be…armed?”
<Wilde is cast on-the-nose as a scary-sexy, insulting and mercurial careerist
possibly using this “old man” to further her aims. Anna toys with Michael, turns
him on and turns on him and never lets on which Anna he’s going to be dealing
with in a given scene. Meanwhile, he is fielding calls from a sad, knowing wife
(Oscar winner Kim Basinger) back home.
In Rome, Oscar winner Adrien Brody is shady Sean, a fashion espionage agent
(he steals designs) and an ugly American — the sort of arrogant jerk who
doesn’t fall for Italy’s charms. He expects everybody to speak English and serve
“‘Bar Americain,’ and you don’t speak English,” he sniffs to a bartender too
obsessed with soccer to be bothered with him. “You understand the term,
By chance, he runs into a beautiful Gypsy (Moran Atias) and becomes tangled
up in her melodrama — a hustler who wonders, at every turn, if he’s being
hustled by an expert.
Mila Kunis is Julia, a broke New Yorker who can only find work as a hotel
maid, whose life has been wrecked by an accusation of child neglect/abuse. Maria
Bello is her irritated lawyer, the one whose appointments Julia keeps missing.
James Franco, an artist who paints without a brush and who lives a stunning
Frenchwoman (Loan Chabanal), is mixed up in it.
The Neeson-Wilde scenes have a playful, dangerous and sexual edge, thanks
largely to Wilde’s fearlessness and cocksure comic sensibilities and Neeson’s
deadpan reactions to her.
Sean, bouncing all over Italy with a woman he seems to both lust after and
pity (Gypsy discrimination) in a succession of different generations of Fiats
she apparently steals, is all those things that Brody does best — aloof and
cool, a little macho and very sarcastic. I love the way he refuses to meet Italy
on its own terms, even when Sean runs into that rare Italian who isn’t a coward,
a bigot or criminal. Do Sean a favor and it’s “Spasiba.” He thanks you in
Russian, just to irk you.
The Kunis/Bello/Franco tale is the most melodramatic and least satisfying,
but even it has a nice payoff.
Haggis lets us get way ahead of the characters and the figure out what the
title of this writerly tale — “Third Person” — has to do with the sometimes
illogical connections between stories. That’s not a problem. Dragging, dragging
dragging the tales out after he reaches a logical climax and something close to
a resolution with each is not.
A generous whittling down and he might have had something special, from sad
story to giddy one with a sad edge, a hustle with pathos and romance intercut
with the consequences of infidelity.
But “Third Person,” despite its rewards, wears out its welcome long before
the third act is through.
MPAA Rating: R for language and some sexuality/nudity </P>
Cast: Liam Neeson, Olivia Wilde, Mila Kunis, James Franco, Adrien Brody, Kim
Basinger, Moran Atias
Credits: Written and directed by Paul Haggis. A Sony Pictures Classics
<Running time: 2:17