Painfully poor effort from Paul Haggis that squanders the talents of an all-star cast
Paul Haggis' 2006 Best Picture Oscar winner Crash (still a sore point for Brokeback Mountain fans) was famously inspired by a real-life car-jacking incident that saw the writer-director work through his subsequent feelings of prejudice and guilt in screenplay form. Third Person sees Haggis attempting a similar trick, in a multi-character romantic melodrama that seeks to explore grief, guilt (again) and the artistic process. Unfortunately, the jaw-droppingly pretentious script and heavy handed direction instead make this is a strong contender for worst film of the year.
Liam Neeson stars as thinly veiled Haggis substitute Michael, a novelist whose career has gone cold after previous awards success. Divorced from his wife (Kim Basinger) and holed up in a Paris hotel room, he engages in a teasing, sexual relationship with a journalist (Olivia Wilde), while bashing away at his latest novel. Meanwhile, in New York, a former actress (Mila Kunis) battles her famous painter ex-husband (James Franco) for custody of their child, who was injured while in her care. And in Rome, an American businessman (Adrien Brody) gets involved with a woman (Moran Atias) who's trying to get gangsters to smuggle her son into the country, even though he believes he's being scammed.
The central puzzle of the film involves working out how all the characters are related, especially since details from the stories frequently overlap (the same hotel room turns up in two different countries, for example). The problem is that the film isn't nearly as clever as it thinks it is, so audiences may find themselves spending over two tedious hours waiting for a final, rug-pulling reveal that they've actually guessed after a few scenes. On top of that, none of the characters are remotely likeable, so it's difficult to invest in their stories even before you figure out what's really going on.
Ultimately, this feels like Haggis attempting to emulate Charlie Kaufman, but falling painfully, embarrassingly short, with the end result being almost insultingly smug and self-indulgent. Avoid at all costs.
Selected release from Fri 14 Nov.