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‘Three Identical Strangers’ review: Astonishing documentary has to be seen to be believed

"Three Identical Strangers" centers around triplets, from left, Robert Shafran, David Kellman, and the late Edward Galland. Photo Credit: Newsday LLC/CNN Films

‘Three Identical Strangers’

Directed by Tim Wardle

Starring Silvi Alzetta-Reali, Eddy Galland, Ron Guttman

Rated PG-13

I’ve got bad news. Once “Three Identical Strangers” comes out, it will add fertilizer to the soil of every nut case’s conspiracy theory. No conversation with that loony cousin sending 2 a.m. YouTube links will be the same.

And how could it be? This documentary comes with a smack-you-dead-in-the-face twist straight out of the most paranoid fiction. No, I’m not going to tell you what it is. You need to experience the moment of “No!” just like I did.

The movie is interesting enough before the big midway reveal. First we meet Bobby, a warm, energetic guy in his early 50s recalling his first day at a community college. When he gets there he’s getting high-fives from strangers and everyone is calling him Eddie. He soon discovers that a fella who was there the previous semester is his exact double. They speak on the phone and facts line up. Same birthday, both adopted by a Jewish adoption agency.

They meet and — wow — they really are identical twins! Actually, no. Because once their story hits the paper there’s a call from David. They are identical triplets, and none of the adoptive families knew of the other’s existence.

The three families confront the adoption agency which shrugs, saying no one would have taken three kids. A lawsuit fizzles. Meanwhile the three 20-year-olds are the Kings of New York. They’re on Phil Donahue, they’re at the clubs, they have a triple bachelor pad and they open a restaurant called Triplets. They’re on cloud nine (I guess it’s cloud twenty-seven) until darker forces reveal themselves.

While there’s a lot of razzle-dazzle (and great New York texture from SoHo to Scarsdale), British documentarian Tim Wardle does a superlative job slowly unraveling this unbelievable story. It becomes a frank and sometimes unsettling discussion about nature vs. nurture, free will, self-determination and the necessity of social sciences. These are old questions, but presented through this lens you come away having seen something new. “Three Identical Strangers” is one of the wilder rides of the year.

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