Interweaving multiple narrative strands has previously stood Paul Haggis in good stead. The director’s 2004 hit Crash took several storylines and threw them together in an intriguing and provocative look at racial prejudice which romped home with three Academy Awards. Haggis has returned to that format with Third Person, a romantic drama which flits back and forth between three interconnected love stories set in New York, Paris and Rome.
Depressingly, Haggis has served-up a metaphorical car crash with this laboured, meandering and incredulous, fruit salad of a movie. Testing the limits of human patience, rather than the boundaries of human compassion seems to be the focus of Haggis’s interest in a story which begins implausibly and graduates into the realms of interminable self-absorption.
In Paris, a writer, Michael (Liam Neeson) has run away from his wife and holed himself up in a luxurious hotel room to work on his latest tome. His noticeably younger lover, Anna (Olivia Wilde) arrives and the two continue their on-again off-again affair to the amusement and interest of nobody but themselves.
In New York, Julia (Mila Kunis) battles to regain custody of her son following allegations of physical abuse. She takes a job as a hotel maid and struggles to convince her remote, artist ex-boyfriend (James Franco) to allow her to see the boy.
Meanwhile, in a Rome bar, Scott (Adrien Brody) a man of dubious means meets the glamorous yet vulnerable Monika (Moran Atias) and is so thoroughly and instantaneously charmed he accompanies her cross-country to help her buy her daughter out of slavery.
There’s a sense that Neeson’s selfish and waffling writer is the keystone to this narcissistic trio of unhappy stories. His preference for self-pity and a questionable habit of parachuting his real-life interactions into his fiction mark him out as a barely-disguised Mary Sue, which only succeeds in decimating any sense of sympathy for him, or indeed his work. It rubs off on the rest of the film too; you feel almost like Haggis may have locked himself in a similar room and simply spewed out any and all nonsense in a desperate bid to make his deadline.
A thematic link between the stories has the effect of cloaking Haggis and his characters in a grubby bubble of grief. Late attempts in the narrative to connect the individual dramas spatially smother any sense of logic and feels like a late, ill-considered addition to the script. In Haggis’s world all women are deceitful and all men are pathetic, spineless cowards. The ghosts, perhaps, of Haggis’s real-life marital strife?
Mila Kunis elicits some small sympathy as the weary mother trying to pick up the pieces of a knackered life and Adrien Brody’s road-trip across Italy blends in a sense of treachery with some success. But this is smug, meandering and a dreary waste of a good cast.
Genre: Drama Distributor:Sony Pictures Releasing Rating: 15 Release Date:14th November 2014 (UK) Director:Paul Haggis Cast: Liam Neeson, Olivia Wilde, Mila Kunis,Adrien Brody, Maria Bello, Kim Basinger, James Franco, Moran Atlas