John Lopez dissects some of Paul Haggis’ techniques from his body of work including Third Person, and Crash.
If you want to start a knife fight with a film nerd, casually suggest that Crash 100 percent deserved its Best Picture Oscar for its profound examination of contemporary race relations. (Personally, I think Avenue Q did a better job in a fraction of the time with “Everybody’s a Little Bit Racist.”) But the fact remains that Crash won, earning an oddly eternal notoriety and giving us the strange, frustrating filmography of Paul Haggis. As much as the word auteur means anything these days, like it or not, it applies to Haggis: Only Paul Haggis could make a Paul Haggis film.
You can tell them by the relentless heaviness of the hand tweaking your expectations: In the words of Spinal Tap’s Nigel Tufnel, Paul Haggis’s drama goes “to eleven.” It’s not that Haggis’s films are incompetent; it takes genuine skill to be that consistently blatant. He knows all the buttons and pushes them with reckless abandon, apparently guided by the belief that in excess veritas. Haggis briefly flirted with the thriller genre in The Next Three Days. But he’s back to his old tricks in Third Person, a meta-film that L.A. Weekly’s Amy Nicholson likened to “walking in on Laurence Olivier in the bathroom.” But what are those tricks? As a public service, we watched Third Person to deconstruct the multiple-Oscar-winning formula and discover what gives a Paul Haggis film that special Crash-y feel of firm, gleeful manipulation.
Some people hear this ubiquitous writer’s maxim and try to interpret it so as to justify their script about time-traveling vampires. Paul Haggis doesn’t get hung up on such technicalities; he embraces it viscerally and literally. Crash famously came about because Haggis was carjacked, which caused his white-guilt circuits to overload. Third Person, which is centrally concerned with a prize-winning writer having an affair, came about (as Haggis candidly admits) because he is a prize-winning filmmaker who had an affair. See how easy it is? Stop fretting about making your heist movie as accurate as possible and go rob a bank. Or maybe you still believe that Paul Thomas Anderson didn’t beat someone to death with a bowling pin for There Will Be Blood.
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