Release Date(s)2018 (October 2, 2018)
Studio(s)Neon/CNN Films/Channel 4 (Universal)
- Film/Program Grade: A
- Video Grade: B+
- Audio Grade: A
- Extras Grade: B-
Three Identical Strangers begins with the amazing story of Robert Shafran, who as a freshman at a New York community college in the 1980s found himself greeted warmly by people who seemed to know him. One woman even kissed him on the lips. Shortly thereafter, another student showed up at his dorm, stared, and asked Shafran if he was adopted. He was. Putting the pieces together, the two young men drove through the night to a house on Long Island, where Robert was introduced to another young man named Eddy Galland. Robert and Eddy were stunned. Looking at each other was like looking into a mirror.
Newsday did a story on their amazing discovery. Another young man, named David Kellman, saw the article and could hardly believe the accompanying photograph. It showed two strangers who were exact images of himself.
They discovered that they were triplets separated at birth and adopted by three different families, each of whom had been utterly unaware of the existence of the others. The story became big news nationally and the triplets made the rounds of 80’s talk shows, being interviewed by Phil Donohue, Jane Pauley and Tom Brokaw, among others.
They shared many similarities in addition to their appearance. They all displayed similar mannerisms, smoked the same brand of cigarette, had been on their wrestling teams in high school. Even their girlfriends were markedly similar.
The boys instantly bonded. They hung out together and behaved as if they had known each other forever. The first third of the movie is a euphoric tale of the bonding, as they rent an apartment together and enjoy both independence and camaraderie with brothers they hadn’t known existed. After their fifteen minutes of fame, they disappeared from the public radar, married and raised families. It all sounds heartwarming.
The rest of the documentary tells about a darker turn of events as the triplets demand to know why the adoption agency separated them, why their adoptive parents were kept in the dark, and why strangers had come to their homes periodically just to talk to them. Too much detail here would spoil a mystery.
Director Tim Wardle uses actors to recreate significant events of the past to illustrate what we learn in the interviews with Robert Shafran, David Kellen, family members, and others associated with the story. The documentary is surprisingly suspenseful and gripping, with one twist after another building to a final revelation of the hidden reasons behind the adoptions and the effect on three innocent lives.
Rated PG-13, Three Identical Strangers takes an astounding coincidence that reunites identical triplets at age 19 as merely the jumping off point to a compelling, disturbing tale of secrecy and manipulation.
The main feature is in 1080p High Definition Widescreen with an aspect ratio of 1.85:1. Audio is DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1, with optional English subtitles. Bonus features are 1080p High definition with Dolby Digital 2.0 audio. Picture quality of the feature is pristine for the newly filmed sequences and recreations but varies with archival photos and home movie footage.
Bonus materials on the Blu-ray release includes Q & A with David Kellman, Robert Shafran, and director Tim Wardle; feature commentary with director Wardle and editor Michael Harte; photo gallery; and trailer. A digital copy is enclosed.
Q & A – Director Tim Wardle discusses the “emotional truth” of the documentary, getting access to files (heavily redacted), learning the reason for the strangers’ visits to the brothers throughout their childhood, and commenting that the story of the triplets was the “80s version of going viral.” Ellen Cervone is acknowledged for the detailed scrapbooks she kept, whose contents made their way into the film.
Audio Commentary – Director Wardle discusses the use of reconstructions with actors to portray significant moments in the story of the triplets’ reunion. He relates how he consciously attempted to tell a “feel good” story and then to turn to the disturbing aspects of the brothers’ lives. He acknowledges the cooperation of the wives and explains how the Jewish Board of Family and Children’s Services tried to block him from gaining access to documents and information about the adoptions. Wardle also discusses how interviews with the brothers were filmed.
Photo Gallery – Photos, both in the documentary and others, show the brothers in their 20s, looking happy and carefree.
Trailer – Coming attractions are presented in a dramatic, suspenseful manner, suggesting a mystery being unfolded.
- Dennis Seuling