It’s difficult to review a movie like Three Identical Strangers, for me at least. I had heard good things about the film, knew I wanted to see it and only saw the trailer once, the day before I watched the full feature. I was lucky enough to know nothing about the story-three boys, triplets separated at birth and adopted out to three different families who reconnect when they are 19-but more importantly I knew nothing about what the movie is actually about, which…isn’t that. Although it kind of is.
The interviews and clips from the brothers, they were on a number of talk shows in the eighties, and even ogled Madonna in a movie once, are fun and interesting, but as with a lot of things, the dynamics were a little different off camera. While the boys quickly bonded, even going into business with each other, it’s obvious from the beginning that you’re not quite getting the whole story right away. This is good, because the ways the film shifts is fascinating and even though some of the interview subjects aren’t introduced until well into the latter half of the movie, the way it’s structured is part of the appeal. What starts as an interesting tale about coincidence and fate turns a bit more disturbing, to say the least. And that is the least I’ll say because part of the greatness in the film lies in the way it evolves.
Director Tim Wardle relies on some typical documentary tricks – the obvious recreations, the awkward setups (oh your thirty-year-old notes were neatly in that closet there?), and some interviews that are parsed uncomfortably, but the storytelling is captivating, and as it moves into different stages, what began as a fun, sweet, fable becomes dark, depraved, disturbing, and frustrating.
It can be difficult to keep everyone straight. I’m still not quite sure whose parents were whose, and which wife went with which brother, but there’s also a valid reason to keep that confusion underlying. Three Identical Strangers is expertly crafted, something that becomes more obvious in hindsight.
Seldom do documentaries work on repeat viewings. Once you know the story, is there a reason to watch it again? Having pored over Strangers twice now, I can certainly disregard that feeling. It’s simply stunning.
My Grade – A