In the decade since his Oscar-bothering Crash, Paul Haggis has spent more time as writer than director. His latest directorial foray, the insipid, supercilious Third Person, suggests he should probably spend more time bashing out Bond films.
Third Person occupies broadly the same space as Crash, in that it features separate story lines interweaving with each other. But there’s a non-linear quality that both places Third Person apart from the earlier film and causes it the most problems.
So we meet Liam Neeson‘s priapic author, struggling in a Paris hotel room with writers’ block and wrestling with his young lover and showbiz reporter Olivia Wilde.
In Rome, meanwhile, Adrien Brody‘s low-level rag-trade thief falls for and gets mixed up in the trouble that surrounds desperate Romany migrant Moran Atias. And in New York, Mila Kunis struggles to hold down her hotel chambermaid job while battling with her ex, played by James Franco.
Star-studded it may be, but nearly every one of these big names is woefully miscast. Among the men, Neeson isn’t good enough to purge the memory of all those recent action movies, and Brody struggles to fill out an extremely thin character. Franco, however, is perfectly cast as a pretentious, unlikable artist and as such is the most convincing of the bunch.
But the biggest problem is with the female characters, which are shockingly badly drawn. All are either needy and troubled (Wilde), troubled and whiny (Kunis) or troubled, needy and conniving (Bello). Taken together, audience empathy may be lacking for any of them.
Which is unfortunate, as all six have sadness in their background and it is this that, achingly slowly, drives the narrative.
And what staid progress it is. Clocking in some way north of two hours, Third Person will have you shifting in your seat long before the end (go for the extra-large popcorn if you’re set on seeing it out). Each strand is dragged out to the point of frustration, the links between them at first tangential and later fantastical as Haggis works in a bit of magic realism to contrast with Crash’s physical cross-pollination.
The twisty-turny ending is deeply unsatisfactory, and frankly a bit of a cop-out, serving only to reinforce the belief that none of these awful people are worth giving a damn about.
Only Kim Basinger comes out of this with any credit. She is quiet and dignified in a very small role as Neeson’s grief-filled ex-wife.
Over-long, badly cast, ill-conceived and eventually insulting, Third Person is a big-name travesty best ignored.