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Review: Three Identical Strangers (Tim Wardle)

Judging Three Identical Strangers as a work of journalism, I take my hat off to Tim Wardle. Judging it as a movie, and my hat remains firmly attached to my head; it's in the engrossing, entertaining little soft spot in between those two where Wardle's work takes primary effect, telling its true story with a wide-eyed engagement that transfers smoothly over to its audience, but with a clear-eyed clarity that displays crucial journalistic inquisitiveness. The sense that there's always something more to this movie sustains it up to its end, which then deflates this sustenance with beguiling earnestness that nevertheless leaves that sense intact. Perhaps it's Wardle's otherwise sage decision to lean into the emotive characteristics of his story, emphasizing its most affecting details that he might hook his audience in, that then leaves us demanding a more revelatory payoff, or at least a deal more inquiry into certain loose ends left along the way.

Regardless, if Wardle's only working with what he's got (and not with what he hasn't), he does some very fine work here. The subjects of this documentary, two of three triplets unknowingly separated shortly after birth only to be reunited by chance in adulthood, are vibrant presences in talking head interviews, never talking so much as communicating, recounting in marvellous, expressive detail. That theirs was a story that received some circulation in its day enriches Three Identical Strangers with archive footage, rather than relying on recreations - the whole movie feels enriched with authentic, vivid factual and emotional content. It's no plan for a full-length feature, and one wonders if indeed such a feature even really exists (there's material for a riveting short, or episode of a documentary series), but it is highly valuable content, never less than involving. Wardle's journalistic skill is in dictating detail, and then neither swamping nor unnecessarily embellishing it with emotion upon emotion, but enhancing it with emotion.

You'll surely be gripped, and then you may begin to experience a slight slackening of that grip, before the movie ends somewhat unresolved. It may be that, for all its remarkable qualities, this isn't much of a mystery tale - its principle virtue is in the unique family drama at its core, and in which Three Identical Strangers excels most in a bruising second act. But what secrets there are to uncover are either uncovered too early and too swiftly, or simply not uncoverable, and potentially not as incendiary as this movie's mildly bombastic tone would wish them to be. So there's a pacing problem here, and a tonal one, and possibly even a conceptual one too, and these problems conspire to prevent Three Identical Strangers from becoming the masterpiece of filmmaking or or journalism that it could have been under different circumstances. Overall, my wig may have been snatched once or twice, but my hat remains upon my head.

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