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Movie Review: Passion (2013)

Updated on December 2, 2013

Director: Brian DePalma
Rachel McAdams, Noomi Rapace, Paul Anderson, Karoline Herfurth, Rainer Bock

There's a part of me that wants to recommend Passion. This is a slick, unabashedly sleazy sexploitation thriller from director Brian DePalma, and features terrific performances from two of the loveliest and most talented actresses working in the business. For a good hour, the movie absorbs you with its twisted tale of two competitive business women who constantly manipulate and back stab each other. Then it gets much darker, and delivers a murder sequence so fantastically orchestrated that it stands out as a small masterpiece of film making.

And falls apart. The movie turns into a murder mystery, and as it crosses the finish line, it starts to lose its way. Most mystery thrillers come with a Big Reveal in the end, and in a way, the twist to Passion plays fair in that the pieces of the puzzle were (sort of) adding up to it. The problem is that DePalma just doesn't know when to stop. After the killer is revealed, the movie plunges us into a final twenty minutes that's filled with red herrings, dream sequences, and plot developments which may or may not have actually occurred, and it starts to get more than a little ridiculous. In the end, we feel like we've been jerked around, and that is never a satisfying feeling to leave the audience with.

The movie, which is a remake of a 2010 movie called Love Crime (unseen by me), takes place in Berlin, Germany, and focuses on two business women who work for a global advertising firm. Rachel McAdams is Christine, a monstrous and ambitious executive in the firm, and Noomi Rapace is her mousy and naïve protege Isabelle. At first, these two seem like they have a solid working relationship, until Christine takes credit for a brilliant ad campaign for a smart phone that Isabelle devised, hoping it will get her the much coveted promotion to the New York office. "There's no backstabbing here," Christine tells her with a smug grin. "It's just business."

She was just a mean girl, but now she's downright psychotic! O_O
She was just a mean girl, but now she's downright psychotic! O_O

Oh, but backstabbing is exactly what it is. Isabelle, you see, is having a not-so-secret affair with Christine's boyfriend Dirk (Paul Anderson), and after Christine steals her idea, Isabelle goes behind her back and uploads the video ad on Youtube. Suddenly, the New York promotion is being offered to her, and Christine, who becomes enraged by Isabelle's deception, makes her it mission to privately and publicly humiliate her rival. She even blackmails Isabelle with a with a threatening e-mail Christine wrote and sent from Isabelle's computer.

Eventually, it becomes an all out war between the two, which eventually leads to the aforementioned murder sequence. DePalma beautifully uses a split-screen technique for the murder, having the violent act juxtaposed with a ballet performance scored by Debussy's "Afternoon of a Faun." It's a rapturous, brilliantly conceived bit of film making, some of DePalma's best work since his movie Blow Out from 1981 (which is, I'd argue, his best film).

Assuming you haven't seen the trailer, I'm deciding not to reveal the identity of the victim, the character who becomes the prime suspect, and the details involving the investigation. This portion of the film pays homage to Hitchcock's favorite theme of an innocent wrongfully accused of a crime, and for a while, the movie keeps you guessing. Is the accused actually guilty, or is there a much darker plot at play? The movie hints at that, what with the way it mutes a dialogue exchange between Christine and Dirk, as well as the curious behavior of Isabelle's adoring assistant Dani (Karoline Herfurth), who has a not-so-secret lesbian crush on Isabelle.

My, what red lips you have!
My, what red lips you have!

Then the identity of the killer is revealed, and while the twist stretches credibility (given everything that we've learned), we accept it, because the movie has created a spell by that time, and we're anxious to see where it goes next. Unfortunately, the events in the final twenty minutes – which include multiple stranglings and a crucial piece of evidence which may or may not have been sent to a police inspector – are handled in such a bizarre and hallucinatory way that none of it ends up making any sense. I actually went to IMDB after watching the film to see if anyone could make heads or tails of it (sometimes they offer better insight into a movie than professional critics), but even the majority of people there seemed as stumped by the ending as I was. When the words "The End" appear over the screen, I was very unhappy with the movie.

That's a shame too, because it features very strong work from both McAdams and Rapace. Rapace, in particular, is very good playing a character who initially seems meek and timid, but gradually reveals a darker side we wouldn't initially suspect from her. The cinematography by Jose Luis Alcaine is often times breathtaking, and the musical score by Pino Donaggio is wonderfully atmospheric. All this means, however, is that the movie is all dressed up with nowhere to go. Brian DePalma may have set out to make Passion into a bit of trashy fun, but in the end, the movie simply comes across as trashy.

Final Grade: ** ½ (out of ****)

What did you think of this movie? :)

3 out of 5 stars from 1 rating of Passion (2013)

If you decide to see this movie, DO NOT watch any trailers prior to it! Otherwise, here you are.


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