‘Third Person’ an Intriguing Yet Foreseeable Labyrinth

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Average: 5 (1 vote)
HollywoodChicago.com Oscarman rating: 3.5/5.0
Rating: 3.5/5.0

CHICAGO – Don’t you hate it when you figure out where a film is going long before it gets there? That could be a problem with “Third Person,” but writer/director Paul Haggis (“Crash”) also adds enough secrets to chew on and enough multiple pathways to explore. Enter at your own risk.

This is an intertwining ensemble piece, much like the filmmaker’s previous 2005 Best Picture, “Crash,” and promises to be just as engaging as that film. Liam Neeson takes a break from action pictures to romance a younger woman in his story, as he goes from her writing mentor to lover. He struggles with a new novel in the background of all this, and the distance between his reality and his characters start to coincide. This is a treatise on love and all its dread and possibilities, and proves the assertion of Paul Haggis – in an interview with HollywoodChicago.com – “The more I learn about love and relationships, the less I know.”

The story relates three inter-connected love stories that take place in Paris, New York City and Rome. Michael (Liam Neeson) is a writer in Paris, and he is having an affair with one of his protégés, Anna (Olivia Wilde), and is separated from his wife Elaine (Kim Basinger). Concurrently, two other stories are taking place in other cities, but seem interconnected.

Olivia Wilde, Liam Neeson
I Love Paris? Anna (Olivia Wilde) and Michael (Liam Neeson) in ‘Third Person’
Photo credit: Sony Pictures Classics

In New York City, an ex-soap opera actress Julia (Mila Kunis) is trying to clear her name after being accused of almost killing her son, now in the custody of his father Rick (James Franco). In Rome, an American businessman named Sean (Adrien Brody) is inadvertently is smitten by a fiery Italian woman named Monica (Moran Atlas), and gets involved in something he didn’t expect. All three scenarios clash as the passion and stakes rise.

Nothing is really about what it seems in this film, which leads to a conclusion that might be tipped off too much, but the elements of all three relationships that are presented – plus a forth if you throw in Kim Basinger’s role – are all rooted in the quest for what loves means, what moments make that love blossom and what obstacles we create for ourselves to hijack our own happiness.

Liam Neeson is clearly reveling in his persona as the conflicted Lothario. He and Olivia Wilde have terrific chemistry, and Wilde owns the screen as much as any rising actress in the last several years. She is a hard person to keep your eyes off of in this role – in all possible exposures – and she stands toe-to-toe with Neeson throughout their give and take. The character’s conclusion is a bit muddled and unpleasant, but Wilde has a way with her projection that can’t be forgotten.

The rest of the cast is high level and understands their parts in constructing their circumstances. Adrien Brody adds a little extra spice to his American businessman, nothing is easy with him in his relationship with Atlas’s character, who comes off as both amazingly sexy and dangerously annoying. Mila Kunis continues her evolution with a difficult characterization, and her ultimate scene with James Franco is brutally sad. Even Kim Basinger and Maria Bello, in relatively smaller roles, attach something to these stories that contribute to their emotion.

Mila Kunis
Mila Kunis Portrays a Hotel Worker in ‘Third Person’
Photo credit: Sony Pictures Classics

But what about the predictable ending? Does it really ruin anything, or is life so unpredictable that even if you feel something coming, it isn’t exactly what it is meant to be – and this is both the strength and weakness of the film. I bumped it up an extra half “statue” after talking to writer/director Paul Haggis, with his source interpretation some of the puzzle in the stories become a bit more substantial. It is a challenging film, with no clear cut outcomes.

“What is this thing called love,” Cole Porter once asked. Like a fingerprint on a physical body, it has a metaphysical definition for each and every soul. And like the characters in “Third Person,” we are all trapped by our own meaning of love, and what purpose it is supposed to give our lives.

“Third Person” continues its limited release in Chicago on June 27th. Featuring Liam Neeson, Mila Kunis, Adrien Brody, Maria Bello, Kim Basinger, James Franco and Olivia Wilde. Written and directed by Paul Haggis. Rated “R”

HollywoodChicago.com senior staff writer Patrick McDonald

Senior Staff Writer

© 2014 Patrick McDonald, HollywoodChicago.com

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