Sony // 2008 // 93 Minutes // Rated PG-13
Reviewed by Judge Clark Douglas // May 15th, 2009
I'm not going to give you this film's tagline, because it's an obnoxious spoiler.
Try not to look too terribly hard at the packaging of this film, it gives much too much away. I'm just telling you upfront, so...now you're looking, aren't you?
Claire (Anne Hathaway, Brokeback Mountain) is a therapist assigned to offer grief counseling to five survivors of a plane crash. Four of the passengers agree to participate in group therapy, but the eccentric Eric (Patrick Wilson, Little Children) only agrees to see Claire in one-on-one sessions at his home. Eric seems just slightly troubled as he attempts to process the accident, but Claire isn't particularly worried about him. His frisky behavior and cheerful demeanor suggest that he's managing to cope just fine. Eric continually flirts with Claire, but Claire refuses to respond to his advances for obvious professional reasons. Still, she begins to wonder how long she can deny her own considerable feelings for her patient. Meanwhile, something mysterious is going on with the members of her group sessions: they're disappearing. Who or what is responsible for the disappearance of these patients? Will Claire be able to uncover the secret?
This Blu-ray disc opens with a series of previews for a series of recently released dramas: Seven Pounds, I've Loved You So Long, and Rachel Getting Married. That's surprisingly appropriate, as Passengers shares a certain dramatic connection to those films. They're all sensitive, character-driven dramas that refuse to reveal all their cards early on. None of these are films in which one can easily deduce the conclusion from watching the trailer or reading a plot summary on IMDb. They are films that ask for the audience's trust, silently promising that everything will make sense eventually. The level of payoff varies from film to film, but I'm intrigued by modern films that manage to avoid formula in favor of offering less predictable beats.
Passengers had a brief theatrical run overseas before heading to DVD and Blu-ray here in the states. The reviews were unenthusiastic with an occasional pinch of hatred, suggesting that the immensely talented cast here was unable to overcome a clunky and tedious script. While Passengers certainly isn't one of the great films of recent years, it's an engaging and surprising drama that has a surprisingly satisfying aftertaste. The director is Rodrigo Garcia, an HBO veteran who has done extensive work on programs such as Carnivale, The Sopranos, Six Feet Under, Six Feet Under, Big Love, Tell Me You Love Me, and In Treatment. His work is quiet, serious, professional, and attentive to the nuances of human behavior. That's a big part of why Passengers works.
The central mystery here really doesn't kick into gear until late in the game, so Garcia keeps us hooked in the meantime by providing us with interesting characters that we can care about. Hathaway has participated in her fair share of rubbish (Bride Wars, anyone?), but when given a good role she is more than capable of successfully carrying a film. She does a fine job here with the part of Claire, making her an intelligent and warm character that seems thoroughly genuine. Patrick Wilson continues to impress me in just about every film he appears in, and does so once again here. The actor is a master at portraying various shades of male insecurities, and I'm continually amazed by the diversity his seemingly limited persona is capable of offering. The rest of the actors here are all talented people who do a fine job, but they don't have a whole lot to do. Dianne Wiest (Parenthood) bubbles over with joy in a few scenes as Claire's landlady, Andre Braugher (The Mist) looks concerned as Claire's supervisor, and David Morse (The Green Mile) glowers and growls as the suspicious-acting head of the airline.
One thing I enjoy about Passengers is its refusal to admit what sort of game it's playing. At one turn it seems ready to become a comfy romantic drama about two people finding love in the wake of a terrible tragedy. At another turn it seems ready to become the sort of paranoid conspiracy thriller so savagely skewed by the Coen Brothers' Burn After Reading. It veers with ease between gentle warmth and unnerving horror. By the time the third act arrives, most viewers will still have no idea what Passengers is headed toward. While I understand this may frustrate some viewers (this is not a common trait in many modern popular and successful motion pictures), I quite like the film's sense of ambiguity.
The hi-def transfer is terrific, offering a rich, crystal-clear image that should please even the most discriminating HD-enabled viewer. Blacks are very deep; both facial and background detail manage to impress at every turn. With the exception of a few key scenes, the film is fairly low-key from a visual perspective, but the vaguely moody and overcast color palette is rather easy on the eyes. Darker scenes mostly do a very nice job of managing to completely avoid any sort of murkiness or black crush. The audio is also quite impressive, once again only becoming truly dazzling during a handful of scenes but remaining stellar throughout. Edward Shearmur's appropriately meandering score is distributed quite effectively here, constantly toying with the mood without every pushing too hard in one particular direction (an approach similar to the one Shearmur employed on the Kevin Spacey/Jeff Bridges drama K-Pax).
A fairly ordinary batch of extras has been included here. First up is an audio commentary with Garcia and Wilson that provides a fairly thoughtful discussion of the film. It's a low-key but perfectly satisfying listen. "Into the Night Sky" (23 minutes) is a fairly standard EPK-style featurette that offers a ho-hum look at the making of the film, while "Analysis of a Plane Crash" (16 minutes) gives viewers the skinny on the biggest special effects sequence in the film. You also get 9 minutes of deleted scenes and the disc is equipped with BD-Live.
The film does succumb to some conventionalities from time to time. I grew weary of the scenes in which a mysterious and vaguely creepy man hangs around outside the therapy sessions. This is very ordinary cheap horror stuff that fails to generate any additional interest in the proceedings whatsoever. I was also disappointed by how poorly fleshed-out some of the supporting players were. The brief 93-minute running time prevents the film from feeling too sluggish, but it doesn't allow all of the characters the attention they deserve. I think the final ten minutes or so could have used a little less slow-motion sentiment. Finally (and most importantly), the packaging does its very best to ruin the conclusion by firmly pointing out at every possible opportunity (with the tagline, with the photos, with the plot description) where this thing is going. Why give away what even the trailer fails to provide?
Passengers is a decent little drama that receives a strong Blu-ray transfer. Cool beans.
Review content copyright © 2009 Clark Douglas; Site layout and review format copyright © 1998 - 2015 HipClick Designs LLC
Scales of Justice
* 2.40:1 Non-Anamorphic (1080p)
* TrueHD 5.1 Surround (English)
* TrueHD 5.1 Surround (French)
* English (SDH)
Running Time: 93 Minutes
Release Year: 2008
MPAA Rating: Rated PG-13
* Deleted Scenes