Third Person, film review: A strange fascination despite a drubbing by the critics

In its lesser moments, the film seems as banal and manipulative as any afternoon TV soap

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Third Person is an overwrought and self-indulgent melodrama set in Paris, New  York and Rome, which combines three stories about characters whose private lives are in utter turmoil.

When writer-director Haggis used a similar structure in the LA-based Crash (2004), he won Oscars and huge plaudits. This time round, he has been given a drubbing by critics. The film, though, has a strange fascination. There is something intriguing about a project that is so bold and so personal.

The key character here is Liam Neeson’s character, an alcoholic, washed-up writer called Michael who is locked away in a Paris hotel room, trying to find authentic material for a new novel. Haggis leaves us uncertain as to whether we are watching “real” events or the random imaginings of a desperate author who has lost his way.

One strand of the film concerns Michael’s sado-masochistic affair with a beautiful but emotionally damaged young journalist (Olivia Wilde).Another is about an American businessman (Adrien Brody) who becomes involved in a Roma woman’s battle to “buy” back her daughter from human traffickers. The third strand concerns a young former soap opera actress (Mila Kunis) fallen on hard times and working as a hotel cleaner, while she fights a  custody battle for her young son with her famous artist  ex-husband (James Franco).

In its lesser moments, the film seems as banal and manipulative as any afternoon TV soap. Another way of looking at the film is as Haggis’s own very idiosyncratic and intimate essay. The characters who appear so absurd and so damaged have all been created by the writer-director to enable him to explore the same basic themes, namely creative anxiety, family guilt and self-loathing.