By Alexia Evripidou
One of most intriguing film openings I have seen in a long time, Third Person explores a trio of tales seeped in love, passion, trust and betrayal. Reminiscent of Paul Haggis’ earlier Oscar-winning film Crash, Third Person is another trademark multi-strand drama. Similarly, Third Person is a connect-the-dots tapestry of interlocking stories and relationships. Asking the audience to bring along their brains, the film weaves through the emotional and complex relationships of its many leading protagonists but does not reveal its ultimate pattern and secrets until well into the late stages.
The characters’ stories, play out in three main cities: Paris, Rome and New York. Three couples, who appear to be unrelated, actually share deep commonalities: lovers, estranged spouses, children lost and possibly found.
Third Person refreshingly opens with a shot of Liam Neeson (Michael) typing on his laptop. Struggling with writer’s block, Pulitzer Prize-winning novelist Michael visits Paris, where he spends most of the time sitting down writing or engaged in rampant adult activity with his young and beautiful protégée Olivia Wilde (Anna). An entertainment journalist and aspiring writer herself, with some serious ‘daddy issues’, Anna enjoys a slightly sadistic relationship with Michael where her power games help to keep him inspired and on his toes. Meanwhile, Michael’s estranged wife, played by Kim Basinger, aware of his infidelities, is back home. However, Michael’s writer instincts are strong and much of what he hears ends up in his books.
Pan over to Italy. In Rome we see Adrien Brody (Scott), an American suit-wearing fashion design thief. Spending most of his time in a country that he seems to despise, the fashion spy sends copies of original designs from Italy to Asia, where they produce the clothes for a fraction of the price. Refusing to learn Italian, he often likes to thank Italian waiting staff with “Sparsiba”. Desperate for a smidge of ‘normal’, he enters a dive called Bar Americano, where he meets and falls for the tempestuous Romanian Gypsy beauty Monika, played by Moran Atias. With shady acquaintances, frequent new cars and a sad story about a missing daughter, Monika needs money to get her back.
With her mystery and beauty, she secures Scott’s interest. But what are her genuine intentions?!
Jump once more to New York, Manhattan, where James Franco (Rick), a successful artist, and his ex wife Mila Kunis (Julia), a failed soap opera actress, are locked in a nasty custody battle for their young son. Julia is struggling, unsuccessfully keeping dead end jobs and trying to prove that she is a fit mother, despite being accused by her angry ex-husband of trying to kill their son with a dry-cleaning bag. Not the most reliable of people, her lawyer, played by Maria Bello, is also ready to write her off.
One thing the three relationships evidently have in common is the constant mind games that are going on, in, around, and beneath. It is indeed jam packed with a stellar cast; a situation which usually fills me with preconceived notions of disappointment. Third Person however managed to surprise. With superb performances by all, enticing us into the characters’ worlds with their individual stories which become interlinked.
The film artistically enjoys using symbology and language play to weave a thin thread of the connection between the stories and characters. For example, one scene ends with one character jumping into the swimming pool and begins another, with a different character entering with wet hair. The ‘why’ bits, you will have to figure out yourself. Also, the repetitive usage of triplets is a play on the film’s title as well as it having a more literal reference, Anna discovers that Michael writes his diary, referring to himself in the third person. An excellent way for him to psychologically and emotionally distance himself from life situations that he may not want to deal with.
With its intriguing situations and numerous compelling individual moments, Third Person demands patience. It is a long film, two hours and 17 minutes long. It is also very intense, complicated, convoluted and a little too clever for its own good. Whether you have watched it eagle-eyed to the bitter end, or nipped out for popcorn, you may well walk out of the cinema crazed by questions. If on the other hand you have it all figured out, do let me know!
DIRECTED BY Paul Haggis
STARRING Liam Neeson, Mila Kunis, Adrien Brody
USA 2013 137 mins