E1 Entertainment // 2012 // 102 Minutes // Rated R
Reviewed by Judge Gordon Sullivan // November 6th, 2013
No backstabbing. Just business.
It seems like Brian De Palma stayed away as long as he could. He made a name for himself by making films about women in danger; Sister, Carrie, and Dressed to Kill all feature a main character beset by some seriously violent forces. Then for a while De Palma did the gangster thing, with Scarface, The Untouchables, and Carlito's Way. The '90s weren't kind to him, however, with both Snake Eyes and Mission to Mars underperforming critically and commercially. He tried to stage a comeback with both Femme Fatale (which nobody saw) and The Black Dahlia (which everybody wishes they hadn't). Now, though, with Passion, De Palma has returned with a film that honors his legacy as a crafter of female-obsessed psychological thrillers with sexual overtones. It will never top his best work, but it's a fun ride that reminds viewers why De Palma is considered one of the greats.
Based on the French film Crime d'amour, Passion is the story of Isabelle (Noomi Rapace, Prometheus), a young woman who works for an advertising firm. One day she gets a great idea for a viral video to promote a jeans company and presents it to her boss, Christine (Rachel McAdams, Mean Girls). When their clients love it, Christine takes credit for the spot, shifting Isabelle out of the spotlight to take the glory (and the promotion) for herself. That begins a deadly game between the two women as they try to manipulate each other for their own ends.
Passion continues De Palma's obsession with plots that are drenched in (deviant) sexuality, where the line between sanity and insanity is dangerously thin, and where the audience is never quite sure if what they're seeing is reality or not. Passion is no exception. We're not sure how much of Christine's plots are simply "business as usual" tricks for her to get ahead, or if she's simply lost her mind and is tormenting her young co-worker. We're also not sure if Isabelle is quite the innocent she pretends to be, or if she too is playing an elaborate game to defeat Christine. Both women demonstrate sexual interest toward the other, and everyone's sexuality is up in the air. This too may be another ploy for either character. The fact that we don't know, or can't guess, which is the case makes Passion a fascinating watch.
The acting, too, is pitch-perfect. Noomi Rapace drops all the toughness she brought to Lisbeth Salander and Prometheus to play the innocent corporate worker. Of course she transforms through the narrative, eventually toughening up, but her journey is fascinating to watch. Rachel McAdams plays on her Mean Girls stereotype, but grown up. Her sexuality is now a weapon, and she beautifully rides the line between presenting her character as a deranged manipulator or a predatory actress just doing what it takes to succeed. The rest of the cast orbit these two stars, reflecting their light and complicating their plans, but it's really Rapace and McAdams who carry the day.
And it wouldn't be a De Palma thriller without some of his seriously amazing camerawork. Passion will satisfy fans in that regard as well. We get his usual voyeuristic camera that captures the apparent view of a killer, and De Palma's done an admirable job keeping up with all the current video technologies that allow him to show characters filming themselves in novel ways. I don't want to give too much away, but the big set-piece of the film is a moment where one character is at the ballet and another is being murdered. We get a split-screen view of the two scenarios, and it simultaneously evokes vintage-era De Palma while also seeming fresh in the context of the narrative.
Passion (Blu-ray) is a knockout, at least on a technical level. The 1.78:1/1080p AVC-encoded transfer is remarkably sharp. Close-ups on faces demonstrate rich detail, and shots of all the film's fashions look simply stunning. Color saturation is spot-on, with deep colors that set off the skin of the film's protagonists. Black levels are consistent and deep, with no noise or other digital problems to speak of. The DTS-HD 5.1 track is equally impressive. Dialogue is clean and clear from the front, with the surrounds getting some use during more crowded scenes. It's not an in-your-face track, but it serves the tense movie well, with good balance and dynamic range.
The set's main extra is 8 minutes of interviews with De Palma, Rapace, McAdams, and Herforth. The film's theatrical trailer is also included.
Of course there's a certain sense of "nothing new" going on here. Passion is a fine enough work, but for the master of this kind of cinema it can feel like an exercise more than a genuine attempt to make art. Fans of Body Double and Dressed to Kill might find some superficial similarities, but Passion can also feel like a retread where those films felt bold and new. Adding in some lesbian antics doesn't quite reinvent the voyeuristic psychological thriller. All of this is another way of saying that I really enjoyed the film, but my enjoyment should be tempered with the awareness that this isn't De Palma's best work, even if it's the most interesting thing he's directed in a couple of decades.
Also, the whole film hinges on some pretty ridiculous plot points, and viewers have to be willing to turn off their BS detectors for Passion to work. Taken on its own as a kind trashy example of cinema, things are okay, but viewers have to be willing to grant the stretch that De Palma asks for.
Finally, this set could seriously use some more extras. A full behind-the-scenes featurette would be nice, as would more interview with the cast and De Palma.
Passion feels like a trashy return to form for Brian De Palma. Thanks to a pair of spectacular performance from his leads, De Palma hypnotizes with his thriller plot and elaborate camerawork. Definitely worth a watch for De Palma fans and those who appreciate the actresses. Fans might wish for more supplements, but the technical side of Passion (Blu-ray) is above reproach.
It's a guilty pleasure, but Passion is not guilty.
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Scales of Justice
Studio: E1 Entertainment
* 1.78:1 Non-Anamorphic (1080p)
* DTS HD 5.1 Master Audio (English)
* English (SDH)
Running Time: 102 Minutes
Release Year: 2012
MPAA Rating: Rated R
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