A film review by Craig J. Koban September 26, 2013  


2013, R, 100  mins.


Rachel McAdams as Christine  /  Noomi Rapace as Isabelle  /  Paul Anderson as Dirk  /  Karoline Herfurth as Dani 

Written and directed by Brian De Palma

I have the utmost respect for the 71-year-old Brian De Palma.  He has made some of my favorite films of all-time during his 40 year spanning career.  

Yet, even the De Palma acolyte in me was left scratching my head far too often all the way through his would-be erotically charged thriller PASSION.  There are times when it comes off as intentionally campy and then unintentionally so, whereas other times De Palma seems to be winking at the audience and then himself.  The filmmaker has always paid homage to the classic troupes of Hitchcock as well, but here the end results become so bizarre and laughably lurid that the screenplay has the feel of something being haphazardly thrown together as he went along.  Days later, I still can’t decide if PASSION is entertaining for being extravagantly silly or just plain silly for its self-indulgent extravagances; it might be more of the latter. 

This, of course, is an English-language remake of the 2010 French film LOVE CRIME (unseen by me) directed by Alain Corneau and starring Ludivine Sagnier and Kristin Scott Thomas.  The remake is set in a large German P.R. advertising firm and features Rachel McAdams playing Christine, a hotshot, teeth-clenched, and determined ad executive.  Her firm specializes in selling all sorts of technological products to consumers, and in the beginning of PASSION Christine is hard at work with her most direct subordinate, Isabelle (Noomi Rapace) as they try to concoct a brilliant campaign for a new smart phone.  Initially at least, they seem to have a standard-order working relationship, but as the film progresses is become glaringly apparent that Christine and Isabelle have anything but a platonic interest in one another. 

Their relative happiness – both at work and at play – is complicated when the cutthroat Christine winds up taking full credit for much of Isabelle’s ideas.  Compellingly, Isabelle is not instantly angry with her boss, but when she discovers that the firm will be slashing and hacking her ad campaign to itty-bitty pieces for easier consumer consumption, Isabelle takes action.  She uploads her original version of the ad on You Tube, which becomes an overnight viral sensation.  Within no time, she becomes the darling of the office with the big wigs, which vehemently frustrates Christine to no end.  From this point, the vengeful Christine begins a vile and pitiless revenge plan against Isabelle, which involves humiliation of both the private and very public variety. 



Of the film’s many intentions, misdirecting the audience with its story seems, at least, to be one of its more obvious and deliberate choices, and PASSION certainly keeps viewers wondering what tawdry and kinky hijinks the story will throw at them next.  The opening sections of the film also seem to display a De Palma where his stylistic hubris has been kept somewhat in check, but as the story progresses his esoteric fingerprints slowly emerge and gives the film a tangible aura of hypnotic visual allure (he joyously plays around with the nature of reality and fantasy throughout the film).  There’s one sequence - near the central part of the film - that’s kind of masterful: A montage (all done in De Palma-esque split screen) where we see the movements of Debussy’s “Afternoon of a Faun” ballet juxtaposed with another thrilling sequence that’s as intricately designed and fluid as the ballet itself.   Cinematographer Jose Luis Alcaine, to be fair, makes PASSION exquisite on a level of pure visual storytelling. 

The problems of PASSION, though, far outweigh its complimentary traits.  Firstly, for a film starring the likes of Rachel McAdams and Noomi Rapace with a built-in promise of promiscuous girl-on-girl frivolity, PASSION seriously seems to lack sensual heat.  The only way out of this would be to make the film as an all-out ludicrous-to-the-point-of-enjoyment sexploitation thriller, but far too much of the time the film takes itself way, way too seriously.  Worse yet is that De Palma – credited with the screenplay, by the way – throws in layer upon layer of confounding plot twists near the third act, which left me kind of puzzled and trying to piece together what came beforehand.  The conclusion of PASSION should have attained a level of high stakes tension and intrigue, but it mostly promoted endless and restless watch checking on my part.  In the end, the final product here does not make a hill of beans worth of sense. 

PASSION has the look and feel of a film that has been made by a directorial master that seems to have all but lost his way within his own intentions of what kind of final product he was trying to put on the silver screen.  The performances don’t help much either.  McAdams seems, I dunno, too affable and sweet tempered of a screen presence to be taken seriously as a corporate shark prone to wild flights of sexual perversions.  If anything, McAdams seems to give it her all making us believe that she’s credible as the venomous Christine, but her miscasting becomes a blinding distraction.  The film could have benefited from some role reversal, seeing as Rapace has had a field day in the past playing dark and oppressive characters, which would have made her a more logical choice for Christine.  She arguably gives the most grounded performance in the entire film, which is not saying much considering the wanton amounts of narrative outlandishness that permeates the story. 

De Palma, for as supremely gifted as he is, may just hit too many things proverbially over the head with a hammer too much of the time here (his utilization of Pino Donaggio's  – a long-time partner – music score seems to aggressively browbeat audiences into overly telegraphed be shocked here and be titillated there emotional moments to the point of inspiring giggles.  That, and as far as being a satire of office politics and the dangers of thorny sexual partnerships, PASSION has very little of anything truly compelling to say.  The notion of De Palma – one of my filmmaking idols – returning to the movies after a far-too-long absence making a perverse and lurid Euro-thriller certainly was an endlessly alluring proposition.  Alas, PASSION is nothing but a cinematic tease, a half-formed cinematic endeavor that has a bit of a multiple personality disorder.  My friend on Twitter told me that each new film from the once acclaimed auteur seems like he’s parodying himself.  

No argument here, bud. 

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