Tuesday, June 17, 2014

Paul Haggis' THIRD PERSON probes the creative process as few other Hollywood films ever have

As genuinely ambitious a project as I have seen an independent filmmaker tackle, THIRD PERSON, the new movie from Paul Haggis (shown below, whose work I have warmed up to but slowly), proves a surprise in so many ways. It is also one of the most creative and daring films I've seen in a long while in terms of how it toys with the viewer, at times making you wonder if there was any continuity person involved in the shoot. Don't worry: There was. There was also a very smart writer/director at work here, devoting himself to a subject dear to my own heart: how the creative process works, with particular attention to the link between creativity and the loss of a loved one, especially where writers are concerned.

Third Person tells three not at all obviously inter-connected stories set in three locales: New York, Paris and Rome. In each one, a kind of love story surfaces, though each is fraught with anger, repressed or on the surface, and loss.

Mr. Haggis has concocted some wildly emotional scenes -- sometimes funny, sometimes not -- in each of these stories, and he and the editor with whom he often works (Jo Francis) have done a bang-up job of threading them and the stories together so that we always and quickly know where we are and with whom.

The wrap-around tale takes place in Paris, shown above, where a famous writer, played by Liam Neeson, is involved with a younger writer and muse (Olivia Wilde).

A bi-polar woman (Mila Kunis, above) and her painter husband (James Franco, below) are fighting over custody of their son in New York City.

Rome is home to the tale of a semi-sleazy fashion-design thief (Adrian Brody, below) who finds himself involved in the attempt of an Eastern European immigrant woman (Moran Atias, shown at bottom) to get her young son safely into Italy.

Each story has its pleasures -- particularly via the fine performance Haggis draws from his crack actors -- but each also has its problems. The stories don't always make complete sense: Details are off (and then they're on again), locations are confusing. Yet by the end, all of this is justified. What perhaps is not (quite) justified is the unnecessary repetition which adds to the length (two hours and seventeen minutes) which attenuates the movie's strengths and may put off some viewers. (Also, some stories here are better than others.)

If you last the movie out, however, the finale is so stunning and beautifully rendered (flesh becomes metaphor and more) that you will want to sigh and maybe cry and then applaud. When it is finally clear what is going on, so original and lovely is this paean to writing-by-way-of-filmmaking (or is it the reverse?) that you may, as do I, want to view it all over again, this time from quite a different standpoint.

In the cast are some other notables like Maria Bello (above, rather wasted in too small a role, though her last moment is oddly indelible), Kim Basinger (below, quite wonderful), Loan Chabanol (as Franco's new squeeze) and Italian hottie Ricardo Scarmarcio, as the nastiest bartender in Rome.

As I say, Third Person is one of the most ambitious, big-budget indepen-dent films I've ever seen. If you stick it out to the end, you'll be greatly rewarded. Whatever its flaws -- and Mr. Haggis, damn him, has made them part and parcel of the very core of the film -- it's going to excite and anger, flummox and thrill intelligent audiences all around the world.

The movie, from Sony Pictures Classics, opens this Friday, June 20, in New York City at the Landmark Sunshine Cinema, the AMC Lincoln Square, and City Cinemas 1,2,3, and in the Los Angeles area at The Landmark in West L.A. and the Arclight Hollywood.  In the weeks to come it will receive a large-but-still-limited nationwide release in cities all across the country. Click here and then scroll down to see all currently scheduled playdates.

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