August 21, 2014

Film Review: Third Person—None For All and All for One

 

Paul Haggis’ latest project is bloated and selfish.

PHOTO BY MARIA MARIN

Film Review: <i>Third Person</i>—None For All and  All for One

Liam Neeson as Michael and Olivia Wilde as Anna in Third Person from Sony Pictures Classics.

Writer/Director Paul Haggis humblebragged about writing 50 drafts for his latest passion project, Third Person. Being the perfectionist he is, maybe it’s not out of the question to ask for another. Only minutes into this film memories of Haggis’ other film, 2004’s Oscar-winning Crash, begin to creep in. This isn’t the viewer’s fault as much as it is the director’s. Third Personfollows a three-pronged storyline, weaving flawed characters as they repeatedly try and fail in their pursuits. If it sounds familiar, it is. Both focus on heavy topics: Crash commented on social and racial tensions in Los Angeles; Third Person is about perception and control. However, this film is really about artistic masturbation.

Liam Neeson plays Michael, a celebrated author struggling to finish his latest novel and torn between his estranged wife (Kim Basinger) and Anna (Olivia Wilde), who has come to visit him in Paris for a torrid affair or just to inflict more grief. Moving south to Italy, Scott (Adrien Brody) is a world-class jerk/shady businessman who is awestruck by Monika, a “streetwise” woman, about whom he can’t tell if she is playing cat or mouse. The parade of sadness continues with Julia (Mila Kunis), an ex-soap actress, caught in a custody battle for her six-year-old son with her ex-husband Rick, an artist in New York, and forced to work as a maid after being financially cut off and succumbing to legal fees.

For all the drama and complexities Haggis throws at you, all these characters are in prisons of their own design. If Michael is torn between two lovers to the point of fleeing to Paris, then why not just let Paris inspire him? If Julia truly wants custody of her son, an acting gig is more lucrative than maid work. And there is no way in hell that Scott, douche and all, would have a change of heart—with, of all people, a stranger—and not expect anything (physical or otherwise) in return. These aren’t actors looking at meaty contextual roles that offer anything new. This is a surly grab at making an “artsy” film. The staid characters and director are emblematic of the film industry’s willingness to go back to the well. A consistently mediocre by-product isn’t made better due to its consistency. As a writer, Haggis turns out great work by creating great emotion from his characters but leaving enough of a void so the director can add whatever colors he likes. As a director, Haggis doubles down on the emotion without adding any color, leaving the characters unworthy of emotional investment.

His message is that people are complicated and full of mixed emotions but isn’t that something we already knew from being human? Because Haggis works in monochrome, the palette can only be shades of gray. That’s fine but it also leads to problems like Third Person and Crash being the same movie. If he wants to bang out the same three chords that’s cool but Haggis should compare himself to AC/DC, not Beethoven.

The fact is that Third Person is so similar to its predecessor that it’s robbed of any chance to be original.