Thursday, August 29, 2013

A lukewarm serving of 'Passion'

Director Brian De Palma's latest, a sometimes silly thriller.
If you want to understand something about the important differences between Brian De Palma's Passion and the French movie that De Palma has re-made -- Alain Corneau's 2011 Love Crime -- think about the difference between Rachel McAdams and Kristin Scott Thomas.

Thomas projects the sophistication, maturity and canny intelligence required for a Dangerous Liaisons-style battle set in the high-stakes world of corporate intrigue. McAdams doesn't project that kind of depth, at least not in De Palma's overtly kinky version of a movie that even Thomas and Ludivine Sagnier couldn't entirely pull off.

Here's the basic set-up in De Palma's movie: McAdams plays the ambitious head of the Berlin branch of a global advertising agency. Noomi Rapace, the Swedish actress familiar from Prometheus and the original The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo, portrays an advertising acolyte who finds herself in a quasi-erotic, intensely competitive relationship with her unscrupulous boss (McAdams).

If McAdams doesn't entirely convince, neither does Rapace, who seems to have difficulty finding the core of a character that never quite computes, and, by the movie's end, De Palma has added the kind of twists that can be as confounding as they are revealing.

The French version focuses on a less-then-glamorous agro-business that's interested in expanding into new markets. De Palma chooses advertising, which affords him ample opportunity to play around with ideas about image, reality and the ways in which sleek surfaces can conceal savage impulses.

The cast is augmented by Paul Anderson, as Christine's lover and accountant, and by Karoline Herfurth, who appears as a loyal assistant to Rapace's Isabelle.

At times, Passion seems to be aiming for the kind of augmented suspense that De Palma has displayed throughout a career that has produced mixed results -- from Carrie (yea) to The Black Dahlia (nay) with stops at movies such as Scarface and The Untouchables in between.

De Palma's work deserves to be taken seriously, but Passion makes for a forgettable (and sometimes silly) entry into the director's expansive filmography. As someone who respects De Palma, I wish it were otherwise. And, yes, I find something a little sad about a late-career movie that's not likely to gain De Palma much traction.

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