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Wednesday, July 9, 2014

Third Person

Three Cities, Three Stories

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Feature films with multiple stories in multiple places, yoked together under some common theme or other: It’s an idea as old as silent movies and the result has seldom been fully satisfying.

Witness Third Person, the latest essay in interlocking vignettes from Paul Haggis, director of the Oscar-winning Crash. Multiple stories are his shtick, and he crams three into Third Person, along with three cities and three sets of characters. Eventually the New York tale of a flummoxed, possibly unfit mother (Mila Kunis) converges with a superstar painter (James Franco), the father of her child. Meanwhile in Paris, Liam Neeson makes sad faces as the Pulitzer Prize-winning author carrying on a romantic-erotic tango with a young protégé (Olivia Wilde) in a story better suited for a mediocre ’70s art house film.

Come to think of it, Third Person is reminiscent of just that sort of thing—polished and aspiring to art with several super cinematic moments, above-average casting and lovely scenic backdrops papering over a hallow center of nothing special. The most interesting of Third Person’s stories is set in Rome and features Adrien Brody with his wonderfully seen-that-already face. His interest in an exotic beauty (Moran Atias) who sails into a bar like a clipper at full sail leads to a descent into the underworld as he is drawn into helping her ransom her kidnapped child. Children, absence and distance are the recurring themes; communication conducted long distance leads to frustration and several smashed or ruined smart phones.

The Brody story might have made a good film if developed on its own; the Neeson strand is hopeless and Kunis’ tale is fit for the Lifetime channel. A few good moments of cross-editing help weave the stories together visually, but do nothing to make them memorable.