Monday, August 12, 2013

Passion


Grade: 67/B

Brian De Palma is one of the most talented thriller directors in the world, but his most recent films haven’t exactly been up to snuff. 2007’s Redacted was sunk by amateurish acting and a heavy-handed sermonizing, where his disastrous adaptation of The Black Dahlia was epically miscast and dramatically inert. His new film, Passion, isn’t quite a return to form, but it’s a return to the loopy thrillers that he specializes in, and it’s a step in the right direction.

Isabelle (Noomi Rapace) works as an assistant to Christine (Rachel McAdams), an advertising executive at a Berlin firm. Christine is manipulative, domineering, and prone to passing Isabelle’s ideas off as her own. When Isabelle finally breaks away from Christine’s grip, her boss runs her through a series of humiliations. Crushed and broken, Isabelle devises a plan to take revenge on Christine.

Passion is a remake of the French film Love Crime, a subpar thriller flatly directed by the late Alain Corneau. In the new film’s rough first thirty minutes, it looks like De Palma hasn’t much improved on Corneau’s work. The dialogue is stilted and awkward, De Palma’s portrait of a cutthroat advertising world isn’t believable, and the film plods along with the same stolid efficiency as the original. It doesn’t help that De Palma continues his late-period difficulty in casting here- McAdams tries to vamp it up but feels like she’s playing dress up, and Rapace is uncharacteristically stiff as Isabelle.

But at a key moment in the film, De Palma’s regular composer Pino Donaggio throws in a wonderfully over-the-top musical cue, and the film turns into a real De Palma movie. Like many of De Palma’s films, Passion is about voyeurism, and about the importance of who’s watching at any given moment. It’s central in Rapace’s humiliation, and in the agreeably crazy finale which, although it doesn’t make much sense, shows De Palma’s gift at pulling the rug out from under the audience. Best of all is a set-piece that’s destined to go down as one of De Palma’s best- a split-screen that focuses half of the audience’s attention on a murder, and half on a fourth-wall breaking performance of Nijinsky’s ballet Afternoon of a Faun. Passion doesn’t rank next to Sisters or Dressed to Kill as one of De Palma’s strongest, but it’s bound to be one of the most formally exciting thrillers this year.

This film is available on VOD and iTunes now, and will be released in theatres August 30.

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