THIRD PERSON (Paul Haggis, 2014)
THIRD PERSON, the new film from writer-director Paul Haggis although not as grand a scale as his previous film CRASH which won him an Oscar, demands our attention. Gianfilippo Corticelli's dreamlike cinematography and Dario Marianelli's seductive musical score invite us into the story.
Michael (Liam Neeson), a writer is in Paris trying to finish his new book. His gorgeous inamorata Anna (Olivia Wilde) visits her, and an emotional S&M follows. Meanwhile, Michael's wife Elaine (Kim Basinger) calls to check up on him, and appears to have awareness of his indiscretions.
In Rome, Sean (Adrien Brody) is on a business trip ripping off expensive designer suits so he can mass produce them in sweatshops. He meets a mysterious woman, Monika (Moran Atias) whose daughter is held captive by ruthless human smugglers.
In New York, failed soap opera actress Julia's (Mila Kunis) life is crumbling by the minute. She is losing a custody battle for her son, and the boy's father Rick (James Franco) denies her visitation rights. Meanwhile, Julia's lawyer Theresa (Maria Bello) is about to give up on her.
The three stories converge, diverge, and in latter parts of the film co-exist within a certain geographical location and time frame that at first, Haggis' storytelling becomes somewhat confusing. Julia applies as a chambermaid in a New York hotel, but later appears in the Parisian hotel where Michael and Anna are staying. Haggis's gimmickry of course, adds an element of curiosity to the recipe, but for those who wandered blissfully into the movie, such metaphors may prove obscure.
One scene during the mid-part of the film may hold key to the film's elaborate puzzle, where Michael meets his publisher, and is told that his current book is pretentious and loaded with excuses for his life mistakes.
The film's payoff does not deliver until the very end, where Haggis makes his big reveal, and this is my biggest issue with THIRD PERSON: Haggis has constructed a very ambitious charade that in the end, he fumbles for ways to tie up all loose ends.
Also, not all fragments of the film are interesting to follow. Haggis elicits a very passionate performance from Moran Atias, yet the story involving her character seems like a waste of ink and paper. The Rome story arc, sadly is not at par with the New York and Paris segments. Brody and Atias en route to rescue the latter's daughter proves an exercise in patience.
Mila Kunis shines, giving Julia just the right amount of empathy it needs for us to root for her even as we are uncertain of her mental stability. Olivia Wilde's character makes for an intriguing follow, and Wilde with her physical looks and seductive eyes approaches Anna with the level of playfulness that can make or break a man as troubled and fragile as Liam Neeson's Michael.
But in respect to Haggis, THIRD PERSON has moments of wonder, such as the culminating scene of the New York segment where Julia seems to have kidnapped her son. The third person narrative in literature, herein allows for the main character Michael to project various facets of his life into different versions of truths and half-truths. Michael calls himself "HE" while referring to Anna as "SHE" in their casual conversations. The publisher character has vividly criticized this scapegoating (as mentioned earlier), but Michael although having overcome a major fear by the end of the film, remains an exploiter of human beings, and as a result he too, like Haggis struggles to chase his creation.
Beautifully shot, scored and edited, THIRD PERSON could have used less indulgence in complex narrative. Some may feel cheated after watching the film. For me, at least it has Olivia Wilde in it, a woman who grows more and more beautiful with every film she stars in.