While not a complete waste of time, Brian De Palma’s Passion is a film that pushes the limits of patience when it comes to stylistic decision-making. If you’re a fan of his style (odd but purposeful camera angles, vapid characters, overly pushy color changes, emotional vacancy, light through slatted windows and on and on) then you are likely going to enjoy some of Passion. Because at its core, it is a film composed of near-nonstop references to previous De Palma films in both visual and narrative ways. It feels at times like a mix tape of the filmmakers’ previous efforts with very little new brought to the table. Unlike a film like Steven Soderbergh’s Side Effects which is director-style-heavy but also original in its own right, Passion comes across like a retread and ends up being somewhat boring and inconsequential.
Which is weird when you’re dealing with a murder-revenge story about an ice-queen advertising boss (played by Rachel McAdams) emotionally and psychologically manipulating her assistant (Noomi Rapace) and generally screwing with anyone she doesn’t like professionally or personally. McAdams is strong in the role and loses her charm and everyday pleasantness for a cruel and off-putting demeanor that is actually fun to watch. On the other side, Rapace is somewhat flat as the put-upon assistant with designs on making it big and possibly supplanting her boss.
Intermixed with this is a sideplot dealing with infidelity and also same-sex attractions and its stresses. Ordinarily this might seem juicy and interesting but it plays about as scintillating as a bowl of lukewarm noodles. Yes, you heard that right. Possible lesbian-leanings, Noomi Rapace and Rachel McAdams and it is uninteresting. Amazing feat, that.
After a clever but glaring over-reach by Isabelle (Rapace) in the negotiations and pitches with a large ad client which embarrasses Christine (McAdams), a game of cat-and-mouse begins to unfold that pits these two unlikable characters against each other in a race for an outcome the viewer isn’t invested in at all. These two people are both lousy and so once the stakes get raised and murder comes into play, you still barely care who wins. Having some shred of decency with at least one of them would have made this brutal and mean descent a little compelling but instead you’re left with the feeling that the both deserve a bad outcome. Rapace’s Isabelle seems to fit that sympathetic mold early on but that dissolves into what could be described as a mirror of her bosses more calm moments of evil. She isn’t as bad as Christine but not by a whole lot. This lack of empathy toward Rapace’s character robs many scenes of weight as she is subjected to one attack after another. If you did care, if she was more innocent and/or decent than you’d really invest in her character winning out and cheer for her to endure Christine’s wrath.
Instead, the viewer must wait out a dopey stolen-money sideplot, who was really murdered by who switcheroo, what the overly dumb cops knew and when and how this whole sordid mess comes together. It is a waiting game of a film, just enough intrigue to not induce sleep but not a whole lot more than that. It is endurance that gets you to the end of the film, not a burning desire to figure it all out. The shame of all of it is that there are some good supporting characters, interesting score and a framework that a good horror/thriller could succeed in. But instead you must slog through the misdeeds of two shallow, unpleasant characters in a base-level murder mystery that brings very little heat and even less suspense.
If you want a strong De Palma film, watch Carrie or Scarface, Body Double or The Untouchables – don’t settle for this dull thriller.