September 11, 2012


It’s unfortunately not saying very much to note that PASSION is the best eeffort Brian DePalma has managed to turn in lately.  DePalma’s Redacted was one of the worst films by a major American director in recent memory (even worse than Francis Coppola’s still-unreleased Twixt, seen at last year’s Toronto)one had to be a major DePalmite to even find it tolerable, although the movie critic establishment still includes some reviewers so invested in his career over the decades that they found ways to give it at least faint praise–and Passion is indeed better than that, as well as the awful The Black Dahlia, which preceded it.  That’s still a long, painful distance from being good.

Passion is a remake of Alain Corneau’s Love Crime, which starred Kristin Scott Thomas and Ludivine Sagnier in the central roles.  Until the last reel, DePalma’s version (which he wrote, although “additional dialogue” is credited to Natalie Carter, who co-wrote Corneau’s film) follows the original fairly faithfully, before veering away at the end to allow him to indulge his compulsion for surveillance and dream sequences.  Until then, DePalm’s main contribution is to amp up the Sapphic undertone considerably–it’s no longer “under”–both by casting the two leads with beautiful young women (Rachel McAdams and Noomi Rapace) instead of continuing the mentor/mentee relationship of the original, and by changing the gender and sexuality of a third major character (played by Karoline Herfurth) to a gay woman.

Set in Germany–where DePalma raised part of his financing– Passion is still the story of intra-company machinations that turn fatal.  Christine (McAdams) is Isabelle’s (Rapace) boss, and although Christine presents herself as wanting to help the junior woman’s career–and suggests she’d like an even closer relationship–in practice she steals credit for Isabelle’s ideas and belittles her.  Isabelle, for her part, is sleeping with Christine’s lover Dirk (Paul Anderson), and Isabelle’s assistant Dani (Herforth) has more skin (as it were) in the game than at first appeared.  Push, as it must, comes to shove; in this case, it comes to a throat-slitting.  In the Corneau film, we knew who the killer was, and the mystery was how that person could have done it–here, DePalma tries with limited success to make the story more of a whodunit.

Corneau’s film was distanced and focused in tone, an almost clinical examination of dissociative behavior, but that’s never been DePalma’s style.  His longitme fascination with stalking and surveillance has led him to fall in love with smartphones and their video function, and they recur throughout Passion–including in the last few minutes, when the revelation that one character has been taping another for an extended period without ever being seen is downright ludicrous.    Teetering on the edge of ludicrousness, of course, has been a central part of DePalma’s films, and while it can be operatically powerful in his best work, this isn’t his best work.  Instead, when one of the characters here is supposed to be under the effects of  pills, DePalma and cinematographer Jose Luis Alcaine shoot the scenes with what seems to be a parody of film noir shadows and tilted angles, pulling the viewer out of the movie to stare instead at the obtrusively fake, almost cartoon visuals.

What’s surprising about Passion is how shoddy and dull it is overall; DePalma’s craftsmanship has mostly vanished.  Even before the deliberately stylized lighting kicks in, sets look soundstage-bound and ill-lit, and Pino Donaggio’s score is broad beyond any visual justification.  Even DePalma’s fake-out dream sequences lack energy and distinctive style.  DePalma’s never been an “actor’s director,” but he’s gotten excellent work from his stars in movies like Carrie and The Untouchables.  Here, Rachel McAdams is shockingly wooden and florid, like a bad TV actress, and it’s obviously not because she lacks talent (it’s like watching Natalie Portman under the direction of George Lucas all over again).  Rapace, whose role is more low-key, survives, but the other actors might as well be dubbed for all the impression they make.

If Passion didn’t have Brian DePalma’s name in the credits, you’d think it the work of a callow and not very skilled imitator.  There’s still a strong enough plot for the movie to be mildly diverting, but for whatever reason, DePalma’s skills haven’t been preserved, let alone deepened, with age.  The irony of Passion is that it has none at all, not even for filmmaking.


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About the Author

Mitch Salem
MITCH SALEM has worked on the business side of the entertainment industry for 20 years, as a senior business affairs executive and attorney for such companies as NBC, ABC, USA, Syfy, Bravo, and BermanBraun Productions, and before that, at the NY law firm of Weil, Gotshal & Manges. During all that, he has more or less constantly been going to the movies and watching TV, and writing about both since the 1980s. His film reviews also currently appear on and In addition, he is co-writer of an episode of the television series "Felicity."