“It’s well-crafted,” novelist Michael (Liam Neeson) offers to his mentee Anna (Olivia Wilde) when pushed for notes on her short story. When she pressures him for more feedback, he relents and admits that the work is “cold” and he longed for the story to be more “personal.” I watched this scene gobsmacked, as Neeson’s character’s critique of this fictional tale aligned, point by point, with my own critique of the film I was currently viewing.
First, the good: Writer/director Paul Haggis (of Crash and Million Dollar Baby fame) has crafted his story well, or stories I should say; like Crash, this movie contains separate story lines that slowly wend their way toward connecting as the film progresses. In the yarn involving Neeson’s character, the former Pulitzer Prize–winning novelist is dealing with a current career low while bunking up with his beautiful student (Wilde) in a European hotel and avoiding calls from his wife, Elaine (Kim Basinger), who represents a tragedy he left behind in the States. In the second storyline, Julia (Mila Kunis) is a broke and downward-spiraling woman trying to get her life back on track so that her ex-boyfriend, famed painter Rick (James Franco), will allow her to see her son, over whom he currently has sole custody. In the third and final storyline, Scott (Adrien Brody) meets alluring Romanian gypsy Theresa (Maria Bello) while abroad in Italy and embarks on a quest to save her young daughter from the clutches of the criminal underworld. The film takes most of its two hours and 15 minutes to connect its disparate characters (which, in case you were wondering, is a long time to wait for three stories that seem to have absolutely nothing to do with each other, to, you know, have something to do with each other).
It is a well-intended wait; the actors are gorgeously directed (Haggis has a particular knack for attracting top talent), and it’s clear the scene work was crafted by master hands. Yet the ending is both too obtuse and too obvious — a paradox I didn’t know was possible until I saw this film. Third Person is well-crafted but cold. I longed for it to feel more personal and, while we’re making a wish list, run about half an hour shorter.