Three Identical Strangers is a documentary with a story so fascinating, complex and surprising that it is a little disappointing the overall production is not quite on its level. It has some intriguing interview subjects and crazy twists that would be hard to believe if this was fiction, but its content is a lot stronger than its style. It is a good movie that feels like it could have been a great one.
Without giving away too much, the film is about Bobby Shafran, Eddie Galland and David Kellman, identical triplets who were separated at birth and adopted by three very different families. They miraculously stumbled across each other at the age of nineteen and immediately became best friends. Their reunion made them minor celebrities in the 1980s. Then, things took an odd turn that shed new light on their formative years. The shift from the happier stuff to the darker secrets is one director Tim Wardle is not really able to handle smoothly.
Three Identical Strangers (95 minutes without the end credits) is part family drama, part mystery, with elements of investigative reporting. It has archival footage, reenactments and compelling interviews with the brothers, their friends and family. The presentation is generally straight-forward, which is fine for this topic. This story does not need extra flash to be enthralling. Wardle seems to want to cover a lot of ground here, but he was unable to organize the material for maximum impact. There are so many layers to the triplets’ tale and the filmmaking is a little too clever for its own good in the way it tries to juggle everything.
It appears that Wardle wanted to use misdirection to add power to all the twists and turns. This works in some places, such as the repeated showing of certain clips of the brothers on various talk shows. They are smartly used so the meaning we get out of them changes every time we see them. Unfortunately, his attempts at surprising viewers become distracting to the point where it periodically takes away from the content itself. For example, there is a transition from one area of discussion to another about three-quarters of the way through the film involving a couple of interviewees getting up and walking out of frame. There is then a cut to a new subject that was so awkward and confusing that it took me a few minutes to get back into the story afterward.
But what a story! Three men who look exactly the same, who did not know the others existed, raised in completely different socioeconomic backgrounds, all with similarities in taste and mannerisms, who essentially combine their lives into one. That alone is interesting, however that is just the setup. Three Identical Strangers is an amazing journey told in an alright film. Though the movie is occasionally a bumpy ride, Bobby, Eddie and David’s story is well worth checking out.
3½ out of 5
Directed by Tim Wardle