In 2006, writer-director Paul Haggis surprised and befuddled a lot of Academy Awards prognosticators when he won the Best Picture Oscar for his multistory drama Crash. He returns to that formula in Third Person, albeit with a pronounced heavy-handedness (and Crash wasn’t exactly subtle) that might leave one pining for something comparatively a bit lighter, such as a colorectal exam.
Not that Third Person doesn’t have its moments. A cast this talented — and which includes Liam Neeson, Olivia Wilde, Adrien Brody, Mila Kunis and Maria Bello, among others — can’t help but occasionally rise above dialogue like, “You’re a romantic; you love love. It’s people you don’t have time for.” But a glum-fest is a glum-fest, and Third Person is stern, mopey and airless enough to warrant a Surgeon General’s warning.
Its three storylines revolve around issues of trust and betrayal. Neeson (Taken 2) stars as Michael, a Pulitzer-winning author staying in a Paris hotel and conducting a rocky love affair with an aspiring writer (Wilde, Drinking Buddies) while his wife (Kim Basinger, The Burning Plain) back in the United States is reduced to leaving him longing phone messages. In Rome, meanwhile, a sleazy corporate spy (Brody, The Grand Budapest Hotel) has stumbled into a contrivance involving a beautiful but mysterious Romanian (Moran Atias, The Next Three Days) whose 8-year-old daughter may or may not have been kidnapped.
In the final and least compelling tale, Kunis (Oz the Great and Powerful) is Julie, a former soap opera actress now battling an ex (James Franco, This Is the End) who has accused Julie of endangering their young son. As Haggis managed to do in Crash, the seemingly unrelated threads come together in a third act that’s more cop-out than clever.
But all is not lost. After having slogged through more than two hours with these uninteresting, unsympathetic and unbelievable folks, the ending credits do provide a bit of catharsis.