Paul Haggis and Liam Neeson talk 'Third Person'

Actors Adrien Brody (L) with Liam Neeson and director Paul Haggis on the red carpet for the...

Actors Adrien Brody (L) with Liam Neeson and director Paul Haggis on the red carpet for the premiere of The Third Person at the Elgin Winter during the Toronto International Film Festival during the Toronto International Film Festival in Toronto on Monday September 9, 2013. (Jack Boland/QMI Agency)

Steve Tilley, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 2:49 PM ET

Moviemaking has come a long way in the last few decades, and most blockbuster films nowadays are an absolute feast for the eyes and the ears.

But our brains are slowly starving.

Third Person is the latest movie by Canadian-born screenwriter and director Paul Haggis, who wrote the 2004 best picture Oscar winner Million Dollar Baby and wrote and directed the 2005 best picture winner Crash. Starring Liam Neeson, Adrien Brody, Olivia Wilde, Mila Kunis and James Franco, it’s a story about three sets of people in three different parts of the world whose lives and fates are intertwined.

And to hear Haggis tell it, it’s not a film for the faint of mind.

“It’s a movie that asks a lot of questions, and you want people to answer them for themselves,” Haggis, flanked by Neeson, said in an interview.

“I love those films where you walk out on the sidewalk and argue with your friends about the meaning of this, the meaning of that. You really have to think about it,” Haggis said.

“That’s too rare nowadays,” added Neeson.

“In the ’70s we’d see these films and then we’d talk about them for weeks and weeks,” said Haggis. “And now we get confused by Spider-Man 2.”

Third Person, which premiered at last fall’s Toronto International Film Festival and opens in select Canadian cities this week, tells the story of Michael (Neeson), a recently separated writer living in Paris and carrying on a tryst with a much younger journalist (Wilde).

Meanwhile in New York, a young mother (Kunis) has been charged with attempting to kill her son, prompting her estranged partner (Franco) to seek custody of the boy. And in Rome, a travelling American businessman (Brody) has been drawn into an affair with a mysterious local woman (Moran Atias), who claims her son has been kidnapped and is being held for ransom by gangsters.

The movie took two-and-a-half years to make because it was a tough – and personal – script to write, said Haggis.

“I was dealing with questions I couldn’t answer about myself and relationships, and I just put those three questions in three different sets of characters, and then put them in different parts of the world,” he said.

“Balancing those three stories and finding answers for myself in those characters took a long time.”

Haggis sought out Neeson to play the lead because the character had to be a man’s man, yet able to show vulnerability. “He’s brave enough to let you look into his eyes and see right into his soul,” Haggis said.

Neeson was thrilled to be working again with Haggis, after having a small role in the director’s 2010 thriller The Next Three Days.

“It’s lovely to be with a director who knows what he wants, and lays all the sandbox out for you. Who says, ‘OK, I’ve got what I want, now go play.’ I love that,” said Neeson, who lately has had a career renaissance of sorts as a mature action hero. (Speaking of which, Neeson recently wrapped shooting on next year’s Taken 3). “The only thing I can say about it is I said, ‘I’ll do it as long as nobody gets f---ing taken.’ They assured me no one was going to get taken, and I said, ‘OK!’ ”

So far, Third Person hasn’t received particularly positive reviews in the cities where it’s already opened. But maybe those critics just don’t get it.

“I think studios and financiers and producers and writers and directors don’t have enough respect for the audience anymore,” said Haggis.

“You have to write for smart people, and damn those who want simple answers and condemn you because you aren’t feeding them that. Go see another film.”

Twitter: @stevetilley

steve.tilley@sunmedia.ca


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