New Film “Third Person” Twists and Turns Its Way to Nowhere

third person poster

The new Paul Haggis film involves scheming, lots of scheming. 

When a screenwriter-turned-director snags numerous Oscar nods in one year alone, it’s not surprising that they’ll try to sweep the Academy Awards with ambitious films again and again.  But when that director is Paul Haggis—the white guy famous for 2004’s Crash, his deeply problematic and dubiously dubbed “progressive” film on racism—each continued effort is heartily dreaded.  Haggis has had plenty more commercial success with films like Casino Royale and Quantum of Solace, but his latest attempt, Third Person, likely won’t even be able say that much.

Stylistically similarly to Crash, Haggis loosely intertwines a star-studded cast and uneventfully reveals their connections to one another in the last five minutes of the film.  Our minds are supposed to be blown, but unlike successful proprietors of this admittedly tricky story structure, his reveals are extremely contrived and lackluster.  Also similarly to Crash, Third Person weaves in and out of its numerous main characters so rapidly that they all feel flat and uninteresting.  When the dramatic plot twists come, they feel distant and half-hearted. But in the very limited time we have to develop any emotional attachments to the characters, Haggis never fails to pull out all of the wild cards in hopes of confusing the heck out of you last minute.  There are floods of scams and infidelity and surprise incest and tons of deceit. The deep message  Third Person hammers home seems to be, “Hey! Did you know people really are screwed up?”

What’s more frustrating than the wacky plot devices, though, is how poorly women and people of color are portrayed throughout the film.  Women?  They’re all unstable, hormonal messes, defined only by the men around (or on top of) them. The main character trait of Julia (Mila Kunis) is some vague psychological “problems,” which the audience knows about because she pops mystery pills, is frequently tardy, and constantly deflects blame.  Her ex-partner, smug and aggressive artist, Rick (James Franco), is manipulative and even physically assaults Julia—at which his very silent, meekly depicted new partner, Sam (Loan Chabanol), seems unphased.  Sam herself is so disturbingly one-dimensional that she hardly even seems human and drifts in the shadows of frames. Was Haggis was making a statement about how our society silences women’s voices?  Sadly, probably not. 

mila kunis

Mila Kunis’ character Julia has “mental problems” that are never deeply explored. 

Throughout Third Person, the female characters are weak and seem to exist only to flesh out the roles of the men that they are connected to.  One of the film’s most central characters, Anna (Olivia Wilde) is the classically cutthroat and bitchy sexual object who just needs a wonderful man to show her what love really means!  She has outbursts and is clearly outwardly cold because she has so many internal emotional problems. When her much-hinted-at terrible secret is revealed, her on-again-off-again lover Michael (Liam Neeson) showers her with his undying love and understanding—only to use her story for fodder in his latest novel.  Like everything else in the film, when major life trauma—like abuse and incest—are revealed, they are quickly glossed over and treated as just another zany plot twist.

Another major issue with Third Person is that the film contains virtually no characters of color. The film is set in an eerily white world, which is bizarre considering that a larger part of the film takes place in New York City.  The only people of color in the film are in the subservient roles of maids and thieves, except for David Harewood, who has a small role playing a tough-love publisher of former Pulitzer-winner and major douchebag Michael. When Michael turns in a manuscript, Harewood’s character tells it to him straight:  “You have random characters making excuses for your life. Frankly, I was embarrassed to read it.” The “random character” barb felt a too close-to-home in this film full of shallow roles. The fact that this very minor character is the only example of a non-stereotypical depiction of a person of color only further proves that Haggis hasn’t learned shit about how to actually challenge typecasting since he made Crash.

Bottom line is that Third Person is yet another film made for a lot of money that’s just not very smart or original.  Many critics agree that Third Person is crappy, yet instead of honing in on how the film is a true disservice to minority characters, they glaze over how blatantly white-washed and male-centric the film is, and instead focus on just the “technical” stuff.  Well, if it’s a technical angle Paul Haggis needs in order to understand how to make a good film, he should take a crash course in anti-oppressive screenwriting for next time.  In the meantime, take it from me and don’t waste your time with this one.

Read more film reviews: The Surprising Emotional Core of The Fault in Our Stars.

Emilly Prado is a former Bitch editorial and new media intern and graduate of Portland State University. When not writing for various publications, she snaps street fashion pics for Willamette Week, partakes in a day job, and uses the internet far too much. Find her on Twitter at @_ahoramismo.

by Emilly Prado
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Emilly Prado is a freelance reporter and educator living in Portland, Oregon. Since publishing her first article with Bitch in 2012, Emilly has contributed to over two dozen outlets including Remezcla, Marie Claire, NPR, FeministingOn She Goes, the Oregonian, and the Portland Mercury. When not writing, she makes zines and travels as much as she can. See more of her work at

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5 Comments Have Been Posted

Good criticism is not about

Good criticism is not about completing some rigid checklist to assess whether the film presents you with the "right" moral stance. I'm not at all defending this movie because I haven't seen it, but if you are seriously taking offense at "weak" female characters, I feel bad for you. Newsflash: real people have strengths AND weaknesses, and these people are both men and women. There are all types of women in the world-- including bitchy or mentally ill ones. It's condescending to women and "people of color" to argue that every movie needs to include a flattering depiction of them lest their fragile egos are injured. Hate a film because it has a contrived plot or poorly written dialogue or a cliche ending-- not because it doesn't adhere to your desired message.

powerful critique

<p>Great critique Emilly, Your reviews seem to keep getting harder hitting. Really like your clever closing of the review with:
</p><blockquote> he should take a crash course in anti-oppressive screenwriting for next time.</blockquote><p>

Looking forward to your next review!</p>

Spot on. I love the dude that

Spot on.
I love the dude that wants to critic your critic and never saw the movie. Who does that!
I wonder if the plethora of stars that committed to making this movie secretly shit talked Paul haggis during breaks n such. I heard it lost 27 million bucks. If Anna was sleeping with her real dad she wouldn't have to sleep with lyiam Neeson character. That's just not how daddy issues work.
your right about the lack of female and minority characters of substance. I usually don't give a crap about that but this movie was so chalk full of psycho skanks with bad attitudes that I venture to say that haggis is revealing something about the type of girltoys that are complicating his life and apparently affecting his screenwriting.


I saw this movie just last

I saw this movie just last night and I was left confused. I have to say that I missed the first 20 minutes of the movie so trying to put all the pieces together were a bit of a struggle. But my comment is more concerning the ridiculous and ludicrous comment about not having enough "color". Get the hell over yourself. Just because there weren't enough black people doesn't make it a bad movie. There is no affirmative action when it comes to casting, alright bitch?

Affirmative Action

I find your comment insulting, ignorant, and blatantly racist. What the hell does "affirmative action" and black people in particular have to do with the author wanting to see a bit of diversity when it comes to portraying people of other races in these movies that constantly have white dominated casting? There is nothing wrong with adding black and other minorities to these movies considering that there are not just white people who live in these major cities. You seem to take any mention of adding someone of color, particular a black person, personally and that only tells me how hateful you seem to be towards blacks. As far as affirmative action, that comes off to me as you making a backhanded insult at people who support programs that are designed to give minorities a leg up in a society that is still controlled through institutionalized white racism, yet you don't realize that it is actually white women who benefit the most from affirmative action, not black people. Maybe it is you who is making the ridiculous and ludicrous comment about color.

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