Starring Rachel McAdams, Noomie Rapace, Paul Anderson, Karoline Herfurth
Written by Alain Corneau and Brian De Palma
Directed by Brian De Palma
Passion reminds me so much of Gus Van Sant’s much-maligned remake of Psycho, the Alfred Hitchcock masterpiece, in that both are pretty much shot-for-shot remakes with little else to offer. Whereas the remake of Psycho was a deliberate carbon copy of its predecessor that suffered from a group of actors who were distracting from the film because of their stardom and reluctance to diverge from the source material, Passion, a remake of the French film Crime d’amour, is a little more complicated than that. I admit I was excited to see Brian De Palma return to the screen after a run of commercial and critical failures (Redacted and the somewhat underappreciated Black Dahlia) and felt his sentimentality for the filmmaking techniques he innovated during his great run of thrillers in the 80’s would perfectly accentuate and expand upon the original film’s sexually charged themes and thrills. What I found though is a film that didn’t change all that much from the original and instead felt extremely tiresome and dated. And for a film that promised the erotic thrills of his past work such as Body Double and Dressed to Kill, the end result amounted to not much more than a campy and seemingly intentional farce.
The story revolves around the relationship between Christine (McAdams), a ruthless ad executive for a French marketing firm and her seemingly naive assistant Isabelle (Rapace). After Christine deliberately steals an idea from Isabelle for a new cellphone ad which has management excited and offering promotions, the assistant begins a game of cat-and-mouse and one-upmanship that slowly escalates toward one of the silliest murder plots of recent memory. Also involved in the shenanigans of Christine and Isabelle is the rivals’ shared lover (Paul Anderson) and Isabella’s own assistant (Karoline Herfurth) who is clearly in love with her boss. I’ll be quite honest, I was on board with the silliness and preposterousness of the first hour or so of this film, but once the film transitioned from light sexual thriller (at best) to campy paranoia and farcical police procedural, I began to imagine myself in a theatre watching Muppets Treasure Island, and how much better of an experience I had with that than what Passion turned out to be.
The biggest problem with Passion is not with the direction of De Palma, we’ll get to that, but in the just plain wrong acting choices. I will first say that I enjoy the past work of all the actors involved in this project and don’t fault them at all for what I witnessed onscreen, aside from Isabelle’s assistant they’re all just simply miscast. McAdams is skilled and does her best at an adult version of her antagonist from Mean girls but she is just too young to portray this ruthless and vindictive a character. This is made more obvious when calling to mind the superior and mature performance of Kristen Scott Thomas in the original. Rapace is also in trouble. I’d actually prefer her as Christine than McAdams and have Herfurth play her role instead. This is the second English language film for her where she is so much better than the material (see Sherlock Holmes 2), I’d be happy with her making films in her native language from here on out. The rest of the actors are completely changeable and to me, with such a campy tone throughout the film, anyone could have played the supporting cast.
DePalma has had himself quite an up and down career and this continues in Passion. This whole film is up and down and I’m not sure if I was supposed to be taking what I was seeing seriously or treating it as comedy. If the film had kept a serious tone like the original throughout, I wouldn’t have noticed the cracks in the plot beginning to give way and ultimately proving just how dated his techniques as a filmmaker have become. The score didn’t do him any favours either, as it was as schizophrenic as the narrative.
I am a firm believer of the figure of speech “You can’t teach old dogs new tricks”, and as such, it may be nearing that time for DePalma to hang up his six shooters and find another hobby, as it appears to me that’s what filmmaking has become for him. That is unless he can acknowledge the techniques he used to remain successful for so long are best to be left in the past and that he should embrace the current trends and filmmaking styles of the present and future. I certainly hope so, as I was a fan of his work for so long and hope he gives us another masterpiece the way he used to in his earlier days.