Thursday, July 4, 2013

More Wall Street Than A Lesbian Love Masterpiece, Passion Is Engaging, But Erratic.

The Good: Noomi Rapace’s performance, Visual appealing, Moments of plot and tension, Strong ending!
The Bad: Some very clunky line deliveries, Abrupt transition in the type of film it is.
The Basics: Passion starts as a corporate drama but changes jarringly into a psychological thriller that mortgages its major villain for a far less compelling one.

More often than not, it takes something quite a bit more significant than a movie poster to get me interested in watching a movie. Still, the advertisers for Passion did their work well with their initial movie poster; two glossy pink, feminine lips facing each other so close that one can almost feel the breath between them was not a bad sales pitch. In fact, given that the two actresses named above the lips were Rachel McAdams and Noomi Rapace. Noomi Rapace might have a big international following (which is why it has taken so long for Passion to premiere in the U.S. while elsewhere it is already out on DVD), but thus far I had only seen her in Prometheus (reviewed here!). Still, the chance to see her in something new and to see what direction McAdams is going in now was worth getting excited about, regardless of the effective movie poster.

The new poster, which features full head shots of Rapace and McAdams looking anything but passionate much more accurately captures the actual content of Passion. Passion is not like Bound (reviewed here!), it’s more analogous to Wall Street (reviewed here!) where people manipulate one another for their own gains. Passion was made very much on the celebrity of Brian De Palma, who wrote and directed the film. While the movie has its moments, it does not represent De Palma’s greatest success as either a writer or a director.

On the writing front, there are several clunky lines that do not sound realistic for the way people actually talk. On the directing front, some of the deliveries are unfortunately stiff. Very early on in Passion, when Rachel McAdams as Christine is interacting with Isabelle during a business meeting, her transition from the professional to the deeply personal is not just an awkward shift; her lines are delivered so stiffly that one has to wonder why De Palma did not insist on a second (or third or however many more takes it needed to get it right) take. Passion quickly evolves from a film with vague sexual titillation and flirtations into a story about workplace manipulations.

Working together on a cell phone project, Isabelle and Christine run into a mental block. When Dirk returns to Christine’s home, Isabelle leaves, obviously uncomfortable. But, in the middle of the night, Isabelle has a brainstorm and with her friend/assistant Dani, she develops Asscam, an app that allows women to see how men on the street react to their walking away. Isabelle goes to London on Christine’s behalf and pitches the app, which Christine then takes credit for (which almost balances out the fact that Isabelle sleeps with Dirk in London and then afterward). With Christine needing revenue and more accounts to cover a risky scheme Dirk created (and needs bailing out of), she pushes for a move to New York and pushes both Dirk and Isabelle away.

Angered at how Christine is manipulating her and Dirk, she puts her advertisement for the Omniphone online and it goes viral. Christine’s move to New York is cut when Isabelle is offered the same opportunity by the corporate partners that the three work for. Dirk tries to warn Isabelle about how dangerous Christine is, but it is not until Christine humiliates Isabelle in front of the company and extorts her with a damning e-mail she claims came from her computer, which leads Isabelle to prepare retaliation. What follows is a game of cat and mouse between Isabelle and Christine where they exert control over one another and their most damning secrets. When Christine is murdered, Isabelle is the prime suspect and she works to exonerate herself and find the true culprit.

The writing in Passion creates an obvious situation where Isabelle is being manipulated by Christine. When Isabelle gets an ally in Dirk, though, she fails to ask a number of key questions that would illustrate she is smart and able to keep up with her boss’s machinations. For example, when Dirk tells Isabelle that Christine does not have a sister (after Christine has told her a sob story about her dead twin sister), she does not ask if Isabelle ever had a sister, she just accepts the truth from Dirk (which is the same version Christine gave her before) that Isabelle does not have a sister. Moreover, Isabelle seems surprisingly dim. She works on a smartphone account, developing a camera-based app and yet seems completely oblivious to Dirk using his cameraphone to make a video of their liaison in London.

Despite her few awkward line deliveries, Rachel McAdams has moments where she is entirely credible as a leader of a powerful and successful advertising firm. But she plays even more effectively as a woman scorned and angered by the corporate and personal stresses she encounters. When she coldly sets out to humiliate Isabelle and her employees, she plays cold and deliciously evil amazingly. She is backed by a number of effective background performers who look uncomfortable at the circumstances in the most realistic way possible. In that way, De Palma creates a very realistic sense of place and characters who react in a compelling way to their challenges and manipulations. McAdams is all kinds of evil as Christine, like the way she kisses Isabelle harder in front of Dani, who has obvious affections for Isabelle.

Noomi Rapace is exceptional as Isabelle. Rapace is able to emote exceptionally well with only her eyes. De Palma smartly manages to capture her expressions. When Christine humiliates Isabelle at the company party, Rapace says so much without any lines and De Palma captures her performance exceptionally well. Similarly, as Isabelle sits in Inspector Bach’s office, Rapace looks haggard and horrible and De Palma gets every nuanced moment amazingly well. (Annoyingly, Bach and Dirk are cast remarkably similarly, which adds to the confusion as the psychological horror of the movie deepens.)

Ultimately, though, Passion degenerates into a weird reality-bending mindfuck of a movie more akin to Black Swan (reviewed here!) than anything truly passionate and the abruptness of the transition from a flirtatious corporate drama to a psychological thriller is jarring. While that can work in a movie to play to the stress of the protagonist, in Passion it just seems more erratic. The result is a film that is more inconsistent than it is cleverly constructed.

For other films with two women in a relationship, please check out my reviews of:
The Incredibly True Adventure Of Two Girls In Love


For other movie reviews, please check out my Movie Review Index Page for an organized listing!

© 2013 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.
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