Paul Haggis' Third Person may be the year's most misunderstood film. It's also one of the most intriguing.
A jigsaw puzzle of characters and plots, it might remind some at first of Crash, Haggis' Oscar-winning multiple-character drama. But Third Person has a different agenda.
Initially, we see three different storylines: Liam Neeson is a writer in a Paris hotel, struggling with a new novel while receiving a visit from his lover (Olivia Wilde). Adrien Brody is a corporate spy in the fashion industry, in Rome to get new designs to send back to be knocked off. Mila Kunis is a struggling young woman in New York, undisciplined and careless, now fighting to get custody of her young son from her controlling ex-husband (James Franco), working with a lawyer (Maria Bello) who seems to have problems of her own.
Gradually, Haggis reveals layers of each story, dealing with issues of trust, selfishness, creativity and life's random reminders that we sometimes have no control over our fate or that of those we love. Slowly, however, the viewer will begin to wonder: How much of this is actually happening in this movie -- as opposed to being spawned from the mind of the novelist? Are these people part of his life -- or part of the interior world he is creating in his novel?
When I saw this Mobius strip of a film at the Toronto Film Festival last fall, I wrote, "Not all of these threads weave together neatly; nor do many of them build to happy conclusions. But they are never less than compelling and Haggis is a skilled enough storyteller to string you along until his final reveal -- which itself may be another layer to be pulled back and examined. It's a complex film for people who enjoy being compelled to pay close attention to what they're seeing."
Third Person is an ambitious, sometimes perplexing, but never less than involving film. It has the same mysterious quality of the European films of the 1960s that had the greatest impact on American films in the 1970s. It's a leap that you should definitely take.
I enjoyed Clint Eastwood's Jersey Boys and think that a certain segment of the audience will, too. Having never seen the stage version of the jukebox musical on which it was based (in its 10th year on Broadway), I still felt that I was getting a representative feel for that show, as filtered through Eastwood's flinty consciousness. But that doesn't make it a good movie.
This review continues on my website.