Directed by: Brian De Palma
Premise: A rivalry between an advertising executive (Rachel McAdams) and her protégé (Noomi Rapace) escalates into sabotage and murder.
What Works: Passion wins a few style points. This is a Brian De Palma picture and like many of the director’s other movies Passion has some scenes that are very well photographed and staged with De Palma’s characteristic split shots and ostentatious lighting. Passion also displays one of the more notable qualities of De Palma’s films: crafty female characters. Whatever the problems of his depictions of women, De Palma cannot be criticized for creating silent or passive female characters. Like many of his other movies, women take the lead in Passion and that distinguishes this film in the male dominated movie marketplace.
What Doesn’t: Brian De Palma is a director who is best known for his erotic thrillers like Dressed to Kill, Body Double, and Femme Fatale. The irony is that most of those pictures aren’t any good and many of them are De Palma’s worst movies. Passion is yet another lousy erotic thriller by De Palma and this one is especially bad. The fundamental problem of De Plama’s erotic thrillers is that the director displays virtually no understanding of human sexuality. Just as the violence of an action picture must be motivated by character and by plot, the sexuality of this kind of thriller must be about the relationships between characters and figure into how they get what they want. The sexuality of Passion comes out of nowhere. It doesn’t represent anything nor does it advance character development or story. Passion is also, strangely, passionless. There is no erotic tension to the movie. Passion often plays like late night Cinemax erotica from the 1990s but with the erotic parts cut out. What’s left is flat and frigid, more a premise than a story. The sexual aspects of Passion are also problematic in the film’s regard for women. Although here and elsewhere De Palma has generally portrayed women as assertive characters, his movies have a leering regard for female sexuality. The sapphic elements of Passion do not present female sexuality in a way that is anything more than superficial. Rather, the moviemakers present women kissing and otherwise getting physical solely for its exploitative qualities. This may have been edgy twenty years ago but now its old hat and the audience is way ahead of a director who keeps rehashing erotic clichés from the 1990s. Passion is also a very terribly written and ill-conceived story. The picture can be divided in two halves: one about a workplace rivalry and the other a murder mystery. The office drama is flat and the relationships between these women are uninteresting. The second half of Passion is a disastrous attempt at psychological terror that has no connection to the first part of the movie. The murder mystery makes very little sense and it gets worse as it progresses, culminating in an ending that abandons any pretense of coherence or logic. Passion is so bad that it actually inspires sympathy for the actors trapped in it. Rachel McAdams and Noomi Rapace are better than this movie but they are both terrible in it, partially due to miscasting. McAdams seems to have been cast based on her role in Mean Girls but she is entirely unconvincing in the role of a domineering and unscrupulous employer. At the same time Rapace is cast as the relative innocent who is suffers under the machinations of her boss. Rapace has successfully done challenging roles before, most notably as Lisbeth Salander in the Swedish version of The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, but this story is so ineptly written that when she is pushed to the breaking point it comes across as comic instead of dramatic.
Bottom Line: Passion is an erotic thriller is neither erotic nor thrilling. This is a lousy movie that is soporific and stupid.
Episode: #455 (September 8, 2013)