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‘Third Person’: Convoluted storylines without much payoff

An ambitious entertainment writer (OliviWilde) trades witty banter with faded author (Liam Neeson) one “Third Person” storylines. | SONY PICTURES

An ambitious entertainment writer (Olivia Wilde) trades witty banter with a faded author (Liam Neeson) in one of the “Third Person” storylines. | SONY PICTURES CLASSICS

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Michael Liam Neeson

Anna Olivia Wilde

Scott Adrien Brody

Monika Moran Atias

Julia Mila Kunis

Sony Pictures Classics presents a film written and directed by Paul Haggis. Running time: 137 minutes. Rated R (for language and some sexuality/nudity). Opens Friday at AMC River East 21 and Landmark Century Centre.

Updated: July 28, 2014 6:12AM

Before “Third Person” begins, be sure to go to the bathroom, and during the movie, don’t go back to the concession stand to refill your soda. If you do, there’s an excellent chance you’ll be totally lost, trying to figure out where the trio of the film’s storylines are going.

Frankly, even if you faithfully sit through Paul Haggis’ film from start to finish, you may walk out plagued by questions.

Though Haggis has crafted an ambitious tale, it is way too complicated and convoluted. We know the “Crash” writer-director loves to present us with pithy, deeply layered stories. In this case, we get the involved storytelling but, at the end of the day, come away without any sense of payoff.

Liam Neeson plays Michael, a Pulitzer Prize-winning author who has lost his magic touch with each succeeding book. He is involved in an intense, competitive affair with Olivia Wilde’s character, Anna, an ambitious entertainment scribe far too impressed with her own talent.

Their well-written banter, sharply barbed witticisms that Wilde and Neeson shoot at each other almost constantly, is one of the more enjoyable aspects of “Third Person.”

Their locale in the film is Paris. The second major storyline involves sleazy clothing manufacturer Adrien Brody, who has built his career by stealing original designs from Italian fashion houses then knocking them off in Asia for a fraction of the cost of the originals. Though he spends a great deal of time in Rome, Brody’s Scott character is very blunt about his deep dislike of all things Italian.

In one of the less believable aspects of this movie, he meets-cute a gorgeous Romanian named Monika (Moran Atias) in a misnamed dive named Bar Americano. Scott quickly becomes swept up in the mysterious woman’s supposed quest to reconnect with her long-lost daughter. While Haggis does give us a simple reason for why Scott becomes so committed to Monika’s cause, it doesn’t make sense given his character’s money-hungry persona.

The third and final tale involves the bitter struggle between Mila Kunis’ Julia and her ex-husband Rick, a famous New York artist who is fighting her attempt to regain visitation with the couple’s son, who almost died in a household accident with a plastic cleaners’ bag.

The connective tissue between the seemingly unconnected stories are issues of betrayal, adults being negligent toward children — sometimes with tragic results — and loss of trust in romantic relationships.

The best part of “Third Person” is watching this group of extremely talented actors chew up the scenery. Kunis and Wilde give perhaps their best performances to date. Neeson and Brody are equally brilliant, but it really is not enough.

Wonderful as it is to watch great actors delve deeply into their roles, it’s a shame that the material they are delivering is just so damn confusing.


Twitter: @billzwecker

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