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Third Person

Those of you—certainly there are some?—mourning the fact that it’s been so long since Christopher Nolan has delivered one of his complicated brainteasers of a movie will have to make do this summer with Third Person, which spends two hours and ten minutes challenging you to figure out how the various story threads you see on screen are related to each other.

I know that a lot of viewers don’t have the patience for this kind of thing. Me, I love this kind of movie, at least when it’s well constructed. When it’s not, it can be excruciating, like the interminable Cloud Atlas. And if you sit all the way through Third Person and decide that the ending either doesn’t tie everything up or only does so in a facile way, I’m willing to listen to your argument.

Lest I set you too far off in the wrong direction, this is not a special effects sci-fi film. It was written and directed by Paul Haggis, and is a multicharacter drama somewhat in the mode of his Oscar winner Crash, a film still guaranteed to start an argument if you ask three random people what they thought about it.

Third Person interweaves three stories. (I’m giving you a bit of a head’s up here, as it takes awhile to realize that some of the scenes involve separate characters in the same story, but I’m not telling you anything the studio publicists aren’t giving away.) Liam Neeson plays a famous writer struggling with his new novel in a Paris hotel room, where he is visited by his mistress (Olivia Wilde), a callous journalist. Mila Kunis is a woman fighting to regain custody of her young son after an accident for which she has been blamed but not tried. Adrien Brody is a sleazy businessman in Rome who tries to help a Romanian woman (Moran Atias) rescue her daughter from kidnappers, though the whole thing may be a con job.

Whether or not you find Haggis’ work worthwhile (many don’t), you can’t complain that Third Person hasn’t been carefully worked out. A lot of the criticisms you’ll read online indicate that the complainer wasn’t paying enough attention, or wrote off some detail or other as a goof. And when one person talks about “random characters making various excuses,” it’s hard not to take it as self-commentary to defuse such complaints.

Haggis is interested in themes of faith, guilt, and renewal. It may be that he’s expended a lot of effort to disguise some banal thoughts on those subjects; I’m not sure. But I will say that he held me rapt all the way to the final frame.

Opens Friday at the Eastern Hills Mall Cinema

Watch the trailer for Third Person

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