Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Haggis' 'Third Person' an intriguing artistic stumble

"THIRD Person," the latest interlocking puzzle from Paul Haggis, is about love. But it's not a soft and fuzzy sort of love.

As the writer-director of the Oscar-winning "Crash" is wont to do, Haggis creates mysteries, raises questions, delves into psyches, and he rarely tidies things up at the end. This film is audacious in that regard. But in blurring the lines between truth and fiction as well as right and wrong, "Third Person" maddens far more than it intrigues.

Indeed, more curious than anything about the movie itself is how such an artistic stumble happened.

"Third Person" has an impressive list of players, each representing a pivotal piece of the film's puzzle and each bringing their A game.

There are three theaters of operation - the entanglement between Liam Neeson's and Olivia Wilde's characters unfolding in Paris, Adrien Brody and Moran Atias' mismatched pair sparring in Rome, and Mila Kunis and James Franco battling it out in New York.

Thematically it's an interesting premise: to examine the psychological, physical and emotional interplay that goes on as people hurt the ones they love. Significant others certainly take center stage, but the ways in which kids become collateral damage is the film's most consistent and unsettling concern. Dancing around the edges is that ultimate mistress - art - and the hold she has over artists.

Production designer Laurence Bennett, a frequent Haggis collaborator, creates three distinct worlds that nevertheless collide seamlessly when they need to. There is a lush ripeness to the look captured by cinematographer Gian Filippo Corticelli, that sense that like food, things could go bad at any moment. Composer Dario Marianelli, who won an Oscar for his work on "Atonement" in 2008, wraps the doings in a haunting score.

And bad things do happen.

Haggis is a writer first, director second, with a rich collection of work that includes an Oscar for his "Crash" script and nominations for "Million Dollar Baby" and "Letters from Iwo Jima." You feel the script winning the tug-of-war, and not to good effect. What "Crash," for example, had and what "Third Person" lacks is the connective tissue that ultimately helps everything fall into place. Instead, the film's pieces remain scattered, its puzzle unfinished, its stories half-told.

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