This thoughtful drama from writer/director Paul Haggis explores deeply interesting issues and is beautiful to behold, but remote beyond the point of its story. It’ll either crash and burn or hit 4-5 stars on the second viewing, which I will definitely give it along the way.
I don't like feeling I've just watched a character study; I want to have experienced it. But with "Third Person", I don't know whether this is because Haggis overworked the isolation of his characters and left it cold, or because there was so much going on I was too busy thinking about its concepts to have time to dive in and feel for its characters.
In the tradition of his Oscar-winning "Crash", Haggis brings us three interlocking stories spanning the globe, centering on Michael, a Pulitzer-winning novelist having lost his former glory; on Scott, a jaded American on business in Italy; and on Julia, a woman struggling to regain custody of her young son after an incident that endangered him.
Each face questions of regret, of the possibility of a future without hope in the face of irrevocable loss, and strains toward a tenuous promise of redemption in the form of an opportunity that could just as easily be a mirage, the brass ring that will bring either a fresh start or their final undoing as they fall and become crushed under the spinning carousel.
The film itself is lovely to look at: colorful and intimate, filled with beauty and excellent performance. It also sparks several interesting inquires as we watch our characters struggle to reach that ring.
How much of life’s consequence is the result of choice? Perhaps far, far more than we would care to acknowledge. But in certain circumstances, what actually constitutes choice?
And when choice and trust meet, where does the responsibility for outcome fall? If one trusts, and the outcome harms, is the harm one’s own responsibility for having made the choice to trust, or is it the other’s responsibility for having proven untrustworthy? Where does responsibility lie, where does it become one’s own? And where does it turn into fault? Become blameworthy?
If we have to take responsibility for every outcome simply because it involved choice on our part, how can we truly operate in relationship? But if we don’t accept responsibility for our choice, we become a leaf in the breeze, subject to the choices and trust betrayals of others. At what point does the responsibility shift?
It’s an interesting continuum, and kept me happily busy throughout, which I desperately needed given that I was largely underwhelmed by the manner in which Haggis was navigating these stories. As with "Crash", I deeply appreciated the conversations he was having, but felt absolutely no emotional connection to the way in which he was having them; it was as though the characters were a device by which he made points he wanted to make, instead of people who prompted us to engage those points, perhaps for the first time.
Is "Third Person" scrumptiously multifaceted, or does it collapse under the weight of its own importance? I’ll definitely give it a second look to find out.
Story: Interlocking love stories across three countries involving individuals strained and estranged by loss and struggling to find their way back.
Directed by: Paul Haggis
Running time: 137 minutes
Houston release date: July 4, 2014 at the Sundance Cinemas
Tickets: Check IMDb.com or the Sundance website
Screened June 23rd 2014 at the Landmark River Oaks theater in Houston TX