Third Person

An acclaimed novelist struggles to write an analysis of love in one of three stories, each set in a different city, that detail the beginning, middle and end of a relationship.

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  • ★★★½ review by Nonomoi Lennon on Letterboxd

    I had to read a lot of reviews with spoilers to understand (minimally) the end of this movie and what is real or not...

    Not saying that I didn't enjoy it but I think that its script should be more consistent to be less loose ends.

    Anyway, great acting (specially by Brody....this guy is spectacular) and good topics approached to reflect about it.

  • ★★★½ review by TheGiantClaw on Letterboxd

    Third Person is a romance story like nothing I've seen before. Academy Award winning director Paul Haggis (Crash) paints beautiful and sometimes bleak pictures on his cinematic canvas, which is aided by the gorgeous backdrop of Rome, a perfect setting for this somewhat romantic flick; while the big push that keeps the movie afloat is really the acting. Haggis managed to rope in some big name actors for this feature and they all turn in grand performances including Liam Neeson (Schindler's List), Adrien Brody (The Pianist) and James Franco (127 Hours).

    The story is very creative with this anthology style tale of three plots all dealing with various stages of depression in relationships. There's the depressed Pulitzer winning writer (Liam Neeson) trying to fill a void with a new and much younger sexual partner (Olivia Wilde), the disheveled life of a woman (Mila Kunis) fighting a brutal custody battle with her ex (James Franco) for their son, and a con man (Adrien Brody) trying to gain the love and respect of a woman by freeing her daughter from a life in prostitution. Which all sound well and good for feature length films of their own, but they actually work fairly well as short stories.

    My biggest gripe with the writing is that this sounded good on paper but it needed a few more editing sessions to fully come to life as it was originally envisioned. I didn't really care for the story of the custody battle; It's not that it's a bad story, it's just not that interesting in my opinion. I've seen better and I've seen worse of this kind of story. Personally it just sits there in the middle of the emotionally scarred writer and the prostitution stories, which are the highlights. Also there are flaws in the con man story. One is that the relationship between him and the mother feels rushed and flat and the character in general is designed to be the dumbest man on earth for the sake of the plot.

    Haggis does do a good job of filling in some of the blanks throughout and the flow doesn't break up when the focus shifts from one story to the next. Each story does nicely blend into the next and I did sympathize with the characters, which again was aided by the acting. The problem with cramming together three love stories with so much plot is that we lose some of the flair, but I didn't really see those problems in this film. Each story works in their condensed forms and I think if they were their own stories they'd drag a bit.

    What really brought it all home was the ending, which is a collection of everything I liked about the film into a powerful end note. It's beautifully shot, it's emotional and has a solid twist that brings the three stories together as one.

    I think with another couple editing sessions this could have been a damn good movie. But as it stands it's a fairly well made and refreshing romance flick. I still recommend it for curiosity sake, but I can understand if you shut it off after half an hour.

  • ★★★★½ review by bulletproofQpid on Letterboxd

    The moral of the story? Writers are some fucked up people.

    Not everybody's cup of tea, I suppose, but it struck me as both beautiful and haunting.

  • ★★★★★ review by valentijos on Letterboxd

    I would even give a sixth one if I could...

  • ★★★★ review by Nick Riley on Letterboxd

    10 years. That's how long it's been since Crash was released into theaters and started a firestorm about contemporary race relations in America. The debate quickly got hijacked by questions of artistic merit--an inevitable byproduct of being pushed into the national spotlight. The slew of Oscar nominations it received incited a very vocal contingent of film fans to decry its Best Picture win, an argument that still smolders to this day.

    In a recent interview, Haggis himself admitted that he thought Crash shouldn't necessarily have won. It was not so much an admission of defeat, though; instead, it was more like a polite acknowledgement of a crowded field of films (that hasn't stopped critics from pouncing on the quote, though). The fact that Haggis is still playing the Oscar political dance a decade later makes it hard to imagine that he hasn't felt the heat of the backlash. Art (and to an umpteenth degree, film) is, after all, a very fickle and public beast.

    With the ambiguously named Third Person, he returns to the multi-strand narrative structure of his biggest film, but Crash this is not. Gone is the earnest but overbearing moralism, the debatably preachy tone and intentionally contrasting cliches. Instead, Third Person is an intensely personal work disguised as a mystery melodrama. It is another divisive work; it is often frustrating, sometimes overwrought, and probably too esoteric for its own good. But those willing to bear with Haggis will find an intellectual examination of relationships, the risks we take for those special people, and the double-sided nature of art that one could presume Haggis is all too familiar with.

    It's hard to talk about the workings of the plot without spoiling much of the puzzle that makes the initial viewing so compelling. All I'll say is that Haggis admirably juggles a colossal cast of tremendous talent, and his eye for defining characters upfront is a great asset here. Liam Neeson breaks from his recent gruff machoism run to play a Pulitzer Prize winning writer whose career has seen better days. His chemistry with Olivia Wilde (in another career-defining role after last year's Drinking Buddies) is electric right out of the gate. Two other plot strands span the globe and seem disparate, but faint hints of overlap inevitably merge together in the most unexpected of ways. If you can see the final (and I mean final) twist coming...well, then you're a lot wiser than I.

    What ultimately makes Third Person so rewarding is its most challenging feature. It's a slow-burn in every sense of the term, revealing a surplus of backstory but only teasing out bits and pieces of its most crucial information, like a sparse trail of breadcrumbs. It's easy to see most viewers throwing their hands up with the seemingly unrelated happenings that at times are intercut in a way that unfairly tips the scale. The film unevenly spends time amongst characters throughout the second act, resulting in what feels like a lack of focus over the lengthy runtime. Melodrama is a tough pill to swallow for viewers, too, and while the film falls back on it sparingly, it does push right up against the limits of acceptability in certain scenes.

    Astute viewers might pick up on the early clues that something grander is afoot, which makes all the supposed meandering justified when Haggis tips his hand. Finally, all of the odd glances and small details coalesce in a most organic way, with every minute detail planted with impeccable finesse. While I must confess that I was able to guess the twist mechanism pretty early on, that doesn't seem to be the point here. Haggis wants you to see what's coming. The twist is not that there is one; it is that Haggis is using the narrative structure as its own comment. What Haggis does with the twist thematically is surprising, poignant, and a welcome insight into the mind of the artist.

    I'm confident that repeat viewings will peel back the numerous layers of nuance in the storytelling. And while this won't go down as Haggis' most visible work, it's a shame because it's so much more rewarding than Crash. It's never dull, and the restraint shown in the film's score and cinematography is commendable. This is Haggis stripped bare, assuming you can make your way through the labyrinth he has constructed. Which is the point of art, and why so many flock to the medium as an outlet of personal expression. As Picasso once famously mused, "Art is the lie that enables us to realize the truth.” There's a whole lot of truth in Third Person, but the beauty is in the lie.

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