CHICAGO – Standing up at the Lyric Opera house in Chicago is unusual before a show. But in this case, it was the night after a tragedy, and the operetta “The Merry Widow” – set in Paris, France, in 1905 – was about to unfold. The orchestra struck up La Marseillaise, a reminder that we’ll always have Paris.
Film Review: Brian De Palma Returns with Revenge Thriller ‘Passion’
CHICAGO – Brian De Palma returns to what he does best after a few notable failures in the last decade, producing his best work since 2002’s “Femme Fatale” and arguably returning to form in the surprisingly effective thriller “Passion.” It’s certainly not the home run that fans of “Dressed to Kill” or “Blow Out” still hold out hope for the director to deliver but it’s proof that this very stylish filmmaker hasn’t completely thrown in the towel like some of his ‘70s and ‘80s peers. It starts a little slow and ends a little crazy but there’s more to like about “Passion” than I ever would have expected. The film is now available On Demand and will be released in select markets tomorrow, August 2, 2013. It’s worth a look.
On its surface, “Passion” seems to be a pretty straightforward vengeance thriller. Of course, De Palma doesn’t make straightforward films, even if this one doesn’t have quite the twisting narrative of a “Raising Cain” or a “Femme Fatale.” This loose remake of the French hit “Love Crime,” centers on a rivalry turned deadly between two women at a high-powered ad agency. Isabelle (Noomi Rapace) has a great idea for an ad for a major client. She takes it to Christine (Rachel McAdams), who takes it for her own concept after their client adores it. Professional competition becomes personal when infidelity, mental disorder, and murder weave their way into De Palma’s plot.
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De Palma the director may be back, and he’s ably assisted by a notable behind-the-camera crew (including great cinematography from Almodovar regular Jose Luis Alcane and a stellar score from longtime collaborator Pino Donaggio), but De Palma the writer still struggles. I’d really love to see him work with a great script but almost all of the problems of “Passion” come down to poor plotting, weak dialogue, and thin characters. It’s when these problems don’t matter, when De Palma is allowed to sink his teeth into the twisting narrative after about 40 minutes, that the film finally clicks into gear. Before that, it’s a little slow in its set-up and nonsensical in its characters.
Part of the problem is that McAdams goes pretty one-note with Christine, turning her into a cartoonish villain and Rapace is woefully miscast. One can only imagine how much stronger “Passion” would have been with stronger leads. It often feels like De Palma was more interested in his actresses as visual props – one blonde, one brunette, and one redhead – than as characters. When De Palma the visual auteur is allowed to come out and play, this feeling actually enhances the film. When character matters, the film suffers. None of the performances are of the caliber in De Palma’s best work.
Photo credit: eOne