Following is Westport News film critic Susan Granger's review of the new movie, "Third Person:"
Canadian writer/director Paul Haggis won an Oscar for "Crash" (2006), but this time, as he tries to repeat the ensemble cast/parallel plot lines formula, it doesn't work as well.
In a posh Paris hotel, a Pulitzer Prize-winning author, Michael (Liam Neeson), is working on revisions of his latest novel, which recently has been rejected. As he writes, he's haunted by whispers, saying "Watch me...," and tortured by thoughts of his estranged wife Elaine (Kim Basinger) back in America. His reverie is interrupted by the arrival of his quixotic mistress Anna (Olivia Wilde), a young "society" journalist who likes to play erotic games.
In Rome, Scott (Adrien Brody), an American businessman who copies the collections of Italian fashion designers and has them duplicated in cheap sweatshops, becomes infatuated with Monika (Moran Atias), a Romanian immigrant he meets in the Bar Americano; she is trying to ransom back her kidnapped daughter being held by gangsters.
And in New York, desperately distraught Julia (Mila Kunis) is accused of hurting her own son; a former soap opera actress, she's working as a hotel maid to pay her impatient lawyer, Theresa (Maria Bello), in an attempt to retrieve visitation rights to see the boy who is now living with his father, Rick (James Franco), a famous abstract painter.
Using surprisingly intimate dialogue and bizarre coincidences, Haggis twists and turns these seemingly disconnected stories until they eventually intersect, but the banal payoff simply isn't worth the wait. And some of the details -- like how a crumpled scrap of paper dropped in a hotel suite in Paris winds up in another suite in New York -- don't ever make sense, even if everything's being hatched in Michael's imagination.
One supposes that the connective thematic element is how a "third person" is often interjected into a love relationship, requiring the pivotal condition of trust, but Haggis' execution of this concept is confusing -- to say the least.
On the Granger Movie Gauge of 1 to 10, "Third Person" is a puzzling, implausibly fractious 5, requiring interminable patience and forgiveness.