Combustible Celluloid
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With: Liam Neeson, Olivia Wilde, Mila Kunis, Adrien Brody, Moran Atias, Maria Bello, Kim Basinger, James Franco
Written by: Paul Haggis
Directed by: Paul Haggis
MPAA Rating: R for language and some sexuality/nudity
Running Time: 137
Date: 06/20/2014

Third Person (2014)

2 Stars (out of 4)

Words of Prey

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

Despite the presence of fine actors doing fine work – especially Olivia Wilde bringing intelligence and playfulness to her role -- this misfire is an absolute mess. The gypsy/child-trafficking plot is the weakest; despite the early reveal that it's a scam, the story somehow keeps going, with characters conveniently overlooking crucial events. Coincidences, such as a lost piece of paper, or surprise revelations about someone's identity, feel like total writer's inventions rather than anything arising naturally out of the story.

In Paris, an aging, Pulitzer Prize-winning novelist (Liam Neeson) bats away on his computer, working on his latest novel. He's sleeping with a beautiful young protégée (Olivia Wilde), while his wife (Kim Basinger) waits at home. Meanwhile, a young mother (Mila Kunis) is trying to fight to see her son again; her ex-husband (James Franco) has taken the boy away after the mother allowed him to play with dry cleaning bags in the closet. In Italy, a man who steals fashion ideas for cheap knockoffs (Adrien Brody) becomes fascinated by a beautiful gypsy woman (Moran Atias), who has lost her daughter to child trafficking. These three storylines continue to unwind until, at last, it appears that there's a connection among them.

Writer and director Paul Haggis, whose Best Picture winner Crash is as hated as it is admired, seems to have banked on the idea that the mystery of the story connections would keep audiences invested for 137 long minutes. But the characters make this difficult, continually distancing themselves with their dumb behavior. The final reveal is more infuriating and frustrating than it is thoughtful. It's a dirty trick that may have viewers calling for that Oscar back.

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