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In Theaters/On VOD: PASSION (2013)

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PASSION
(France/Germany - 2013)

Directed by Brian De Palma.  Written by Brian De Palma and Natalie Carter. Cast: Rachel McAdams, Noomi Rapace, Karoline Herfurth, Paul Anderson, Rainer Bock, Benjamin Sadler, Michael Rotschopf, Dominic Raacke. (R, 96 mins)

Brian De Palma's first film since the 2007 misfire REDACTED is a throwback to his stylish suspense films of old:  hardcore fans will smile and nod at Pino Donaggio's melodramatic score (conducted, of course, by Natale Massara), an early split-diopter shot, and about an hour in, one of those famous De Palma split-screen sequences.  As nice as it is to see and hear those things again, one can't help but think that the legendary director is just punching a clock with this one.  It's a remake of Alain Corneau's French film LOVE CRIME (2010), but even with the uniquely De Palma-esque elements, PASSION is rather dull before the auteur finally snaps out of his trance and starts showing off.  Few directors can manipulate an audience like De Palma and, at 73, he's at the emeritus stage of his career where any shots or scenes that look like his classic work automatically get a pass because it's just "classic De Palma."  That was sort-of the approach he took with 2002's FEMME FATALE, but PASSION is seriously lacking that masterpiece's sense of filmmaking giddiness.   It's very probable that FEMME FATALE will go down as De Palma's last great film, whereas PASSION just finds him throwing some vintage-looking De Palma bits at you and it feels more out of a sense of obligation than engagement with the material. 


A tale of backstabbing bitchiness in the marketing world, PASSION stars Rachel McAdams as American marketing executive Christine Stanford, who oversees the Berlin branch of a big-time agency.  She has a flirtatious rapport with her ambitious underling Isabelle James (Noomi Rapace), who's sleeping with Christine's embezzling, Eurotrash lover Dirk (Paul Anderson).  It would seem that Christine and Dirk have an open relationship, but that doesn't stop Christine's need for control by taking credit for one of Isabelle's marketing concepts, which sets off a chain reaction of psychological and sexual head games between the two women.  First it's harmlessly passive-aggressive, but before long, it escalates into cattiness, public humiliation and, finally, of course, murder.

For its first hour, PASSION plays a lot like a Skinemax erotic thriller from the mid-to-late '90s.  That is, the boring parts between the fuck scenes.  McAdams plays Christine very much like an anachronistic nod to Sharon Stone.  She's often cartoonish but seems to be relishing the opportunity to play an alternate universe version of her MEAN GIRLS character.  It's hard to get a handle on Rapace's character and her performance.  At best, it seems like she's awkward, miscast, and occasionally overwrought, but De Palma has been known to make casting decisions like that before and have the point go over the heads of audiences (much the way he took the inherently bland screen presences of Craig Wasson in BODY DOUBLE and Josh Hartnett in THE BLACK DAHLIA and used it to each film's advantage), but I'm not sure what he was trying to accomplish with Rapace's frequently stilted performance.  Before the end of the film, you'll realize both stars are outacted by German actress Karoline Herfurth (recently seen in ERRORS OF THE HUMAN BODY) as Isabelle's lesbian assistant who pretty obviously has the hots for her boss. 

Ultimately, PASSION is a pretty scattershot affair.  It looks great, is very well-shot by Jose Luis Alcaine, and when those De Palma moments finally start happening, PASSION picks up considerably.  But then the director just starts getting silly with dream sequences within dream sequences, the introduction of a long-lost twin sister, and a blatant swipe from Dario Argento's TENEBRE in the climax (not the first time he's borrowed that famous shot), which ends the film on a frustrating note.  In the right film with the right script, a director staging obvious callbacks to earlier works is a beautiful thing for fans.  De Palma did it the right way with FEMME FATALE.  The story makes all the difference here, and when the too-frequently stale PASSION does it, it just feels trite and forced. It's obviously worth seeing for De Palma obsessives and even uninspired De Palma is better than the A-games of a lot of today's directors, but the "De Palma can do no wrong" crowd on IMDb and other sites needs something a little more concrete than "It's not meant to be taken seriously!" to effectively defend the master, especially since you could say that about most of De Palma's classics.  PASSION should be trashy fun, but it just isn't. 






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