Depending on the story being told, sometimes the best thing a documentary can do is just get out of the way and stick to facts. Three Identical Strangers features some nice, subtle bells and whistles, but for the most part, that’s exactly what it does. Other than some sparse recreations, there’s simply no room for anything fancy with a story this bizarre.
As you can probably surmise from the title, Three Identical Strangers is all about three identical triplets, separated at birth and reunited later in life (at age 19, to be exact) by little more than happenstance. You may even have a passing familiarity with the brothers and their story, as they became something of a media sensation back in the ‘80s. Even knowing the premise, watching it unfold during the film’s first half hour is truly engaging in a way no Wikipedia entry or even book could ever hope for. A story about three dudes who look exactly alike needs to be told visually.
And it is fascinating, not just for how unlikely it all is, but the extent to which the brothers pronounce their remarkable similarities. Even if they are just playing some of it up for television, seeing it all compiled like this, combined with present-day testimonials, is a sight to see. It’s joyful and wonderful and builds a strong emotional connection between viewer and subject.
This is about when you start to wonder why one of the three brothers has not yet shown up for a testimonial of his own, and the film’s real work begins. This isn’t a documentary about how amazing it is that these triplets found each other, but rather a strong journalistic investigation into why they were split up in the first place. And that’s just the beginning. This is one of those documentaries defined by unexpected twists. It’s not on that Dear Zachary level (really, what could be?), but things do get pretty deep and crazy. I don’t want to spoil any of it here. If you’re just dying to know, I assume you can look it up. I’d hold off though.
Ultimately, Three Identical Strangers offers a startling meditation on the long-held debate between nature and nurture. That’s how it begins, with the triplets in complete syncopation with each other despite being strangers. And after all the twists and turns, that’s exactly where it ends, albeit with somewhat more complicated conclusions. It’s not flashy, but the subject matter makes it inherently cinematic, which helps elevate Three Identical Strangers above just a very special episode of 48 Hours. It will also likely move you from tears to anger and back to tears several times before it’s over.