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Griffith Maloney [Film Festival 09.25.12] thriller drama mystery


Betrayal, revenge and kinky sex are slathered haphazardly over the lukewarm plot of Brian DePalma's new film Passion. Based on the French film Crime d'amour about the trials and tribulations of an abused office assistant. It is a muddle of confused genre sensibilities and nonsensical allusions which when partnered with a severe lack of character chemistry make this a hard to watch film and not in a fun way.

Passion is ostensibly a thriller but it possess little to none of the flair and bravery that defined DePalma's earlier films. It shows the fast paced life of Isabelle, the assistant to a high powered advertising executive Christine as she struggles with the backstabbing world of big business. Isabelle eventually triumphs and then just as things seem to be working out for her she's jailed for Christine's murder. If this sounds exciting to you let me temper your expectations, its boring. Passion has aspirations of thrillerdom but it doesn't have a compelling enough mystery to offer. You're let into the plot almost as soon as the main character devises it and DePalma even throws in some unnecessarily obvious hints in case you thought there was a hidden agenda somewhere. This languid plot produces incredibly predictable one note characters.

Heading the pack is Noomi Rapace who seems to be determined to mine out a glassy eyed niche for herself. Her turn as Isabelle is full of teary glances and watery stares and not a whole lot else. As the main character of our story its hard to relate to a character who seems to want nothing from her life. It's hard to identify if the dullness of the performance is mainly her responsibility or not, I suspect that the passive writing of the character is responsible for her unfortunate lack or presence.

Rachel McAdams plays the destructively devious Christine, an archetype of cruel and unwavering manipulation who will do whatever is necessary to ensure her success. Ms. McAdams has played the villain before now but she seems to be enjoying herself beyond all measure here. She spends every on screen moment demanding an absurd amount of attention from both the other characters and the audience. Although an entertaining performance it seems off-key with the supposedly realistic thriller and only serves to further unbalance the performances.

Paul Anderson is by far the most compelling principal, oozing oily britishness over every scene that he's a part of. Between his smarmy, magnetic charm and Rachel McAdams determination to chew the set to pieces with every appearance parts of the movie are a charming train wreck. The flaw here is again with characterization. I have no idea what any of these characters want and I don't particularly care about them. If thrillers hava a golden rule its that the audience must like some of the characters, otherwise why would we care if they get chopped to bits or not? Despite the best efforts of the cast, the characters of Passion might as well be put through the wood chipper for all I'd care about them.

The film, which is also written by DePalma, is just a wreck of a script. It has no forward momentum or character investigation. We're never let in on the motivations behind our characters actions. Its just bad. Very rarely have I seen a movie with two main female leads that almost manages to fail the Bechdel Test. Can these two ambitious women talk about anything other then the men who surround them? In addition to the weak plotting and character development the script has these weird sexist trappings. Power hungry, kinky-sex, ice queens and devious evil controlling lesbians make what could be a nuanced murder drama more of a soap opera. Its like DePalma reached back through time and grabbed the spec script from some 70's soft-core porn submission pile. Its not just that our character aren’t likable people, its that they aren't people at all.

Further compounding this movies problems is the lackadaisical production choices. Here is an area where DePalma usually excels but in Passion mistake is compounded upon mistake. The score is far to intrusive, barging into the scenes like a saxophone fueled linebacker and making itself more obvious then it ever needs too. The angled shooting is distracting and at times even comedic. The third act in particular is heralded by a change of shooting style and an incredibly dramatic change in lighting. The intention was clearly to present a dreamy decent into madness but it simply looks like the actors decided to suddenly put on a high school play version of LA Confidential.

Let me explain, there's one dream sequence section later in the film and from the first second every single person in the audience knows its a dream sequence. This isn't because of the setting or the characters actions or anything fanciful. It's simply down to the lighting and the camera angle. Brian DePalma, a man who has made almost thirty full length, professional films in his career, chose to shoot this scene in exactly the same style as the worst soap opera dream sequences. Its a visual style that screams cheesy and low budget. The sort of dream sequence you'd see on Saturday Night Live in a skit making fun of TV dream sequences.

The worst part is that DePalma blows parts of the movie that could be interesting. The motif of Debussy's "Prelude to an Afternoon of a Faun" is presented early in the film and could be a nice analogous metaphor for the journey of the character. This connection is never made clear though and feels like a major wasted opportunity as the single best sequence in the film is a murder played out in classic DePalma split screen with the ballet performance. Why you would allude to a piece of music that is about a passionate desire followed by fitful dreams, which is literally what this movie is about, and then never make the effort to connect the two things? There are echoes of Lynchian and Cronenbergian weirdness in the kinky sex objects, stark designer apartments and mysterious doppelgangers but DePalma doesn't use them in anyway, they just end up as weird window dressing.

The cherry on top of this horrible cake is that Passion has an absolutely cop out ending. The kind that makes the audience laugh when the credits start rolling. It is this more than anything else that draws the comparison between Passion and television movies. It's the mark of bad script writing. Because we don't give a rats ass about the characters we don't particularly care what the ending scenario is. I sympathize with Mr. DePalma, this probably wasn't the thriller he was trying to make but the confused, sloppy composition is a sad echo of his earlier much superior works. It won't kill you to watch Passion but its a silly, weak movie and there are such great genre examples out there it seems alost a shame to spend your time on this one. Go watch Blow Out or Sisters instead.

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Gil (9 years ago) Reply

I can't help but agree with your assessment. It's an underwhelming effort to be sure. IMDB cites a budget figure of $30 million, but I'm left to wonder: what did they spend the money on. Shoes?

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