Yikes. I don’t know what Brian De Palma was thinking when he decided to take on this project, because Passion is a film that would be awful if any director made it. The fact that a talented director made it — De Palma directed Scarface, Carlito’s Way, and The Untouchables — makes it seem that much worse.
The plot of Passion, which is a remake of the 2010 French film Crime d’amour (Love Crime), has a lot of similarities to a typical high school “mean girls” movie. The gorgeous Christine (Rachel McAdams) is a manipulative, sexually-kinky advertising executive who will do just about anything to land a coveted position in the New York office, including toying with Isabel (Noomi Rapace), a plain-Jane advertiser who has recently created the firm’s most successful ad. Isabel is visually Christie’s opposite — while Christine is gorgeous, blonde, and manages to make conservative business attire look jaw-dropping sexy, Isabel wears all black and has her hair pulled back in a ponytail at all times. They knowingly share a lover, Dirk (Paul Anderson), who has business ties to the firm and becomes a key figure in their tug-of-war over power in their company when Christine tries to take credit for Isabel’s campaign. Again, replace the board room with a high school cafeteria and the same formula works — the hot chick goes after the plain-Jane, who desperately wants to be accepted by the hot chick, and somehow a boy gets involved to mess it all up.
The best part of the film is McAdams, who carries the film. As Midnight in Paris showed, she is so good at playing the bitch. Christine is a fascinating and complicated character, especially with how she manipulates the people around her with her complex sexual relationships. She tries to remake Isabel in her image by introducing Isabel to more by buying her bright red sexy heels and applies lipstick to her (“you need some color” she symbolically tells her). In fact, these scenes are among the best in the film — it begins to seem that Christine doesn’t just want to share a lover with Isabel, she wants to eliminate the middle man entirely.
Unfortunately, Christine abruptly leaves the narrative roughly an hour into the film, after which the film’s sexy interplay mostly disappears. It never recovers, with increasingly ridiculous circumstances seemingly ripped from a bad direct-to-video erotic thriller — many of which were unintentionally laughable (at least I assume it was unintentional, since they were played straight). While I applaud De Palma for allowing McAdams to unleash her full charisma into the role, once she’s removed the film her presence is sorely missed.
DePalma does clever things with the use of color in the film, but otherwise the film relies on too many gimmicks — in particular the use of camera phones to capture key moments — to succeed. There’s also a brilliant use of a split-screen during the film’s climax. But the story simply doesn’t hold up, and I can’t imagine why he felt so compelled to remake the film — De Palma also wrote the screenplay — if this was the result.
Rating: Despite a riveting performance by Rachel McAdams, what we have here is a below average erotic thriller you’ll find playing late at night on a cable television station (3/10).
New York Film Festival Screening Times
Saturday, September 29 9:00PM Alice Tully Hall
Saturday, October 6 9:00PM Walter Reade Theater
Thursday, October 11 3:15PM Francesca Beale Theater