Tuesday, July 1, 2014

Third Person [2013]

MPAA (R)  ChicagoTribune (1 1/2 Stars)  RE.com (2 Stars)  AVClub (D)  Fr. Dennis (3 Stars)

IMDb listing
ChicagoTribune (M. Phillips) review
RE.com (S. Wloszczyna) review
AVClub (A.A. Dowd) review

Third Person [2013] (written and directed by Paul Haggis) focused on a writer (nominally named "Michael" and played by Liam Neeson) and the creative writing process plays like a contemporary "who-done-it" inviting audiences to try to figure out what's actually going on.  As in the case recent films such as Crash [2004] (written and directed by Haggis as well) and Babel [2006], there are actually three stories playing out and they are intertwined.  The question in this appropriately R-rated mystery-of-sorts becomes: how?

In (perhaps) the main story there's said writer Michael (played aforementionedly by Liam Neeson).  We find him residing (temporarily?) in a quite swanky hotel in Paris.  At the beginning of the film, he's flown-out his beautiful, more-or-less-clearly adoring, and certainly _much younger_ writer, lover, muse Anna (played by Olivia Wilde) to join him there, at his Paris hotel, for a while.  She arrives, complaining half-for-real / half-flirtatiously "Did you really fly me all the way out here 'on points'?"  Michael does have a wife (played by Kim Basinger) back in the States ...

But there are two other stories going on.  The second involves a rather strung-out/irritated American sales rep named Scott (played by Adrien Brody) apparently finishing-up some sort of a clothing business venture in Rome.  It's clear as day that he hates being there and would just like to get back home (presumably in the States).  But with some time to kill, he comes across a bar named "Cafe Americano" on a random street somewhere in the city center (near apparently the Pantheon).  When he enters it, he finds to his further annoyance that there's nothing "American" about it.  It's just like any other random Roman coffee bar in city.  The barista has soccer jersey on, speaks no English and when Scott asks if by chance he could get a Budweiser, he's given a Peroni (warm to boot ...) instead.  Asking indignantly why the place is called "Cafe Americano," he gets a similarly indignant shrug in return as if to reply: "I don't know and I really don't care, you annoying ugly American jerk."

Well while sitting there, nursing his warm beer, looking forward to just getting the heck out of the place/city/country/continent in a couple hours, a somewhat exotically dressed darker-skinned woman (played by Maran Atias) enters.  It's obvious, that the barista doesn't particularly like her either.  Why?  Well, she's a "zingara" (gypsy).  But barely in control of his emotions, Scott, steps in to defend her, and so, the barista gives her a drink ... some sort of a liqueur, interestingly enough served _cold_.  So Scott asks for (whatever it is) the same.

The woman and Scott get to talking.   The woman, named Monica, we find doesn't particularly like Scott either.  In fact, she seems angry at everyone and everything.  It turns out that she's been told to come to that particular bar to wait for a phone call.  Why?  Well, it appears that she's some sort of a Romanian immigrant and she has been trying to get her daughter over to Italy, not particularly easy, especially if one's skin-color betrays you as a gypsy (a Roma...).

So Scott, initially not a particularly sympathetic guy, soon finds himself getting sucked into a story that goes way beyond his normal experience.  Now how much of what Monica is telling him is for real?  How much is some terrible lie concocted to take advantage of a gullible "ugly American" who hated the place anyway?  She always tells him just enough, with just enough intensity that he (and the audience...) is left bewildered and willing to give her "the benefit of the doubt" in hopes of "choosing to do the right thing" ... So that's the second story that's unspooling.

But wait, one more tidbit to reveal before going to the third story: It turns out that Scott's not necessarily all that anxious to go home to the States either.  He's just anxious, period.  Why?  Well, he seems to be clinging to a random voice-mail message from his own 8-9 year old daughter that he's been saving on his cell-phone for something like a 100 days.  The message has no particular importance to it.  So why keep it?  Obviously, because he hasn't seen her (or talked to her) in a very long time.  So why then is he getting sucked into the exotic/tormented Monica's sob-story?  Shouldn't he be looking at his watch and looking for an excuse to get to the airport ... Instead, he chooses to delay his departure and enter into Monica's world (or Monica's "world" ...).

Okay, going on to the third story.  This one, set in New York, involves a young once would-be actress named Julia (played by Mila Kunis) who's found herself in a very-very ugly child-custody fight with her former husband, an artist named Rick (played by James Franco).  Apparently, Julia was accused of trying to kill their 8-9 year old son in some terrible/neglectful way.  She's emphatically defended her innocence BUT her very emotion in this matter has proven to be to her detriment as her similarly harried (it's tough being taken seriously as a woman in this world) / business-like (and not particularly convinced) lawyer (played by Maria Bello) keeps reminding her.  The fundamental charge against Julia has been that she's "irresponsible."  But how does one maintain a job if one was previously "a struggling actress" and one's now constantly being called to make random, though always important, court appearances/depositions/evaluations, etc with everyone more or less convinced that "she did it" and is "simply in denial?"  The poor woman HAD VOLUNTEERED for a lie detector test (against the advice of her similarly harried/but businesslike lawyer...) and then (because she was so upset, so trying to prove herself innocent) FAILED IT.  So then this story is playing out as well.

So these are the three stories that are playing out in the film and one assumes from the beginning that they are somehow interelated.  How?  Well that's the rest of the film ;-)

I know that the other reviewers (above) didn't particularly like the film, BUT I DID.  I loved the guessing.  What's "real"?  What's not?  What's "based on" / "inspired by reality"?  Etc, etc.  It's definitely an R-rated movie (more for sex than for violence) but I do think it makes for a good contemporary "mystery": what was "really" going on?

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1 comment:

  1. Well, I loved Crash, and I adored Babel, and I loved the way you wrote this review. I'll read the Trib review after I see the film. Thank you.