Review – ‘Three Identical Strangers’ discusses nature vs. nurture with a shocking true story

Poster for 2018 documentary Three Identical Strangers

Genre: Documentary
Certificate: 12
UK Release Date: 30th November 2018
Runtime: 97 minutes
Director: Tim Wardle
Writer: n/a
Starring: David Kellman, Bobby Shafran, Eddy Galland
Synopsis: By an astonishing series of coincidences in the 1980s, three complete strangers discovered they were actually identical triplets, separated from each other at birth. But that wasn’t the end of their insane story.

 

 

A caveat at the start of this review. Tim Wardle‘s Three Identical Strangers is an enthralling documentary that thrives on its unexpected reveals and shocking reversals. While this review will be as spoiler-free as possible, as usual for this site, those wishing to get the absolute most from the film should probably go in completely cold. Consider yourself warned.

With that said, let’s take a look at the basic concept that powers the first half of this movie. We are introduced to Robert Shafran as he recounts his first day at college, where he was surprised that huge numbers of people on campus appeared to recognise him as a guy named Eddy Galland. A few phone calls later, it transpired that he had an identical twin, from whom he was separated at birth as they were both adopted by different families. When the media picked up the story, a third identical triplet – David Kellman – came out of the woodwork. The trio became worldwide celebrities, cameoing in Desperately Seeking Susan and appearing on the talk show circuit to wear identical clothes and finish each other’s sentences.

That’s the setup – only a plot spoiler if you don’t even know the title of the film – but it only gets weirder from there. Unsurprisingly, the adoptive parents of all three of the lads wanted to know why they had no idea that the child they adopted 20 years before had two identical siblings. The situation becomes even weirder as the parallels and differences between their three lives stack up, inflicting hurt on the boys and bringing in to question the thorny question of the ‘nature vs. nurture’ debate in childhood development.

But the true genius of Wardle’s movie is that he allows the triplets to tell the story themselves and, as a result, he never loses sight of the core humanity of the story. Three Identical Strangers is not about what happened to these men, but is about the men themselves. It’s first and foremost a character study, albeit one powered and propelled by a plot that is truly stranger than fiction. He’s keen to tell the story from all sides, presenting every argument through some quite incredible access to people who it seems ridiculous would even consent to take part.

To say much more would spoil the surprises of Three Identical Strangers, so all that’s left is to say that it’s one of the most interesting documentaries of the year and one executed with real style and clever structural work by Wardle. Every time you think you have a handle on the story, it takes a turn into the unexpected, the absurd and often the heart-breaking. It’s a special story, told with consummate cinematic skill.

Pop or Poop?

Rating: Pop!

Like many other documentaries that thrive on the twists and turns of a surprising true story, Three Identical Strangers is better the less you know about it. Tim Wardle has distilled this complex, bizarre story into a pacy and enjoyable documentary that takes great joy in wrong-footing the audience at every turn. It’s a very human tale, and Wardle understands that, allowing his subjects to tell the story and take centre stage.

 

Do you agree with my review? Let me know in the comments section.

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