“The chief enemy of creativity is good sense.”

— Pablo Picasso

Paul Haggis is a man who knows something about making movies. He won an Oscar for writing the script to Clint Eastwood’s “Million Dollar Baby,” and for his own, the 2004 “Crash.” You have to take a man like that seriously when he asks you to come to a movie that has many critics scratching their heads. But then life itself has all of us scratching our heads daily. At least Haggis’ people are generally more interesting and entertaining, not to mention scary, gorgeous and brighter than we are.

Here we have Liam Neeson as Michael, a handsome, successful writer suffering a block. But at least he’s suffering the block in a posh Paris hotel. His publisher meets with him in a cafe and tells him he’s yesterday’s literary hero, today is iffy, and tomorrow doesn’t look much better. Michael has a young lover who annoys him, and an estranged wife (Kim Basinger) back in the U.S., who is sitting by the pool with her cellphone waiting for a call from him.

There is Anna, (Olivia Wilde) the annoying young lover, an aspiring writer with slender limbs and hypnotic eyes. Anna is impatient and eager for praise from her Michael who won’t give it.

Anna spends the days writing down the hall in the hotel, but her nights with Michael. Yet she lives with a very shocking, dark secret she keeps in another apartment far away.

We cut, in a film full of sharp cuts, to Scott (Adrien Brody) in Rome. Scott is in the business of stealing fashion secrets. Scott smokes and drinks too much and can’t speak Italian. He wants to go home, but in a tiny Roman bar he runs into Monika (the smoky Israeli actress from “Tyrant,” Moran Atias) who is waiting for a pay phone to ring. Maybe Scott won’t go home yet.

Back in New York, hotel maid Julia (Mila Kunis) is running across town, in and out of subways and cabs. She is late for a court deposition with her ex-hubbie Rick (James Franco). Her lawyer, Maria Bello, is about to dump her. In Los Angeles, Kim Basinger, wet from a swim, waits for a call from Michael.

Haggis shuffles his people and props like cards. Haggis does not want you to sleep and you won’t. The blocked writer, the fledgling writer, the design thief and the disturbed mother, all with horrors in the past, all involving children and big expensive, beautiful pools of deep blue water demand our attention.

All three stories are like iPads full of tiny notes a screen writer keeps to fill out his inchoate screen play. A lot of writers could steal any one of these stories and make an exciting movie about them.

The movie is called “Third Person.” But who is that? We grow impatient for answers. Hitchcock always had the answer for us, so did Ford and Welles, and Spielberg. John Wayne found Natalie Wood, Welles told us it was all about a sled, Spielberg said, don’t cry, “E.T.” will be back.

But Haggis, to his credit, is like Picasso. He wants to paint himself blue, carve women into wedges and refuses to explain or apologize. He leaves it to us to figure it out. Some will find this annoying. Some will find it fun.

“Third Person” has no apes or Terminators, no sleds or Indians. There are just people, each with a secret, each with a decision to make and so little time.

Two splendid actors, Maria Bello and Kim Basinger, have little to do, but they do it beautifully and they are pieces of the puzzle. And what about those two big blue swimming pools that appear from time to time, big, frightening, yawning pools full of blue tears? Be patient. This is not Norman Rockwell. This is Picasso.

J.P. Devine is a former stage and screen actor.


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