Stars: Rachel McAdams, Noomi Rapace, Karoline Herfurth, Paul Anderson, Rainer Bock, Benjamin Sadler, Michael Rotschopf, Dominic Raacke and Max Urlacher.
Writer: Brian De Palma; based upon the screenplay ‘Love Crime’ by Alain Corneau and Natalie Carter.
Director: Brian De Palma.
Director Brian De Palma descends further into late career dirge fuelled by an artless ‘dirty old man’ fascination with niche, particularly sapphic sexuality with Passion, his most lurid, loopy melodrama to date.
This Berlin-set battle of the same-sexes potboiler is a wildly indulgent work for the 73 year-old, once celebrated as Hitchcock’s heir apparent and lauded member of the film-school brat, 1970’s wunder-kinder generation. Like his contemporaries Francis Ford Coppola, George Lucas and Peter Bogdanovich, it’s been a long time since De Palma has made a decent film (1996’s Mission Impossible, maybe; certainly 1987’s The Untouchables); more recently, his output has been notable misfires (The Bonfire of the Vanities, 1990; Mission to Mars, 2000; The Black Dahlia, 2006; Redacted, 2007) and little-seen guilty pleasures (Snake Eyes, 1998; Femme Fatale, 2002).
Passion falls somewhere in between. Christine (a game but never fully convincing Rachel McAdams) is the driven head of an advertising agency, determined to be promoted back to the corporation’s NYC head office. We meet her giggling over wine and work with her underling Isabelle (Noomi Rapace), a 24-hour ad exec who nails the concept for the firm’s most important client only to have Christine brazenly steal it. So begins an increasingly ruthless sequence of get-squares between the pair, which soon involve Isabelle’s PA Dani (the stunning Karoline Herfurth) and Christine’s slimy boyfriend Dirk (Paul Anderson).
Stylistically, De Palma displays all the skill audiences have come to expect from the director who, in his heyday, gave us Carrie, Blow Out and Scarface. But when the plot turns all murder-y at the midway point (and a convoluted, implausible murder at that), the veteran filmmaker indulges in garish, random lighting and skewy camera angles (DOP Jose Luis Alcaine, Pedro Almodovar’s go-to lensman, may have something to answer for). We get that it is meant to represent one characters descent into madness, but it is jarring and pretentious, taking the audience out of the already daft plot even further.
Passion never quite becomes as generically dismissable as its title suggests, but there are an awful lot of elements that we have seen before in the director’s oeuvre; the complex psychological bond between siblings, specifically twins (Sisters, 1973; The Fury, 1978; Raising Cain, 1992); the manipulative and ultimately corrosive nature of potent, twisted sexuality (Obsession, 1976; Dressed to Kill, 1980; Body Double, 1984). De Palma returns again and again to these themes but unlike his hero Alfred Hitchcock, it has become clear the director’s own obsession has overtaken his ability to creatively explore itself.
For those still there at the end, De Palma ramps up the energy for a deliriously enjoyable denouement (aided immeasurably by an omnipresent Pino Donaggio score). But Passion is the work of a director falling back on what he has done well for four decades and plays tired and desperate. Apparently, with nothing new to say, Brian De Palma settled for repeating himself. He should have called his film something else.