3.5 stars. Rated R, for profanity, nudity and sensuality
By Derrick Bang • Originally published in The Davis Enterprise, 7.11.14
Writer/director Paul Haggis’ film is too long, too self-indulgent and often too precious.
That said, it’s also intriguing, mysterious, and oddly compelling. And, to a degree, there’s a reason for the many contrivances. Whether the “ultimate answer” justifies the prolonged journey, however, will be up to the taste — and tolerance — of the individual viewer.
Haggis is a seasoned writer, having cut his teeth on various TV dramas before leaping to the big screen with several high-profile assignments with Clint Eastwood: Flags of Our Fathers, Letters from Iwo Jima and most particularly Million Dollar Baby, the latter two garnering Oscar nominations. Haggis also helped revive the James Bond franchise by collaborating on the gritty scripts for Casino Royale and Quantum of Solace.
Most notably, though, Haggis is known for taking home twin Academy Awards for 2004’s Crash, a victory that remains controversial to this day. Some Best Picture Oscar winners are universally embraced; others divide movie buffs into polarized camps. Crash belongs to the latter group, its interlinked storylines alternately praised as insightful social commentary or ridiculed as puerile left-wing twaddle.
Third Person is an equally personal film that employs a similar template of seemingly disconnected narratives that slide in and around each other. The crossovers aren’t as direct as those in, say, Babel, Love Actually or even Crash; sometimes it’s no more than two people passing each other in a hotel hallway, Haggis’ camera using that excuse to shift quietly from one point of view to the other.
Except that there is more going on here, as we eventually discover.
Perhaps sensitive to the warring camps he created with Crash, Haggis avoids even a whiff of political content this time, focusing instead on interpersonal relationships and issues of trust. All the characters here are in various stages of flirtation, love or rejection, their behavior determined by anger, frustration and impatience.
And by hope. Hope for understanding; hope that things will get better; hope that past transgressions can be surmounted, catalogued and forgiven.
Julia (Mila Kunis) can’t get her life together, much to the vexation of her attorney, Theresa (Maria Bello). Forever between jobs and frequently down to pocket change, Julia nonetheless hopes to regain visitation rights with the 6-year-old son living full-time with his father Rick (James Franco), a famed New York artist, and his girlfriend Sam (Loan Chabanol). We’ve no idea what Julia did, to be shunned so thoroughly by her ex; her flakiness alone doesn’t seem sufficient cause for such total banishment.