Brian De Palma still has it. The ability to create interesting characters and evoke performances from actresses that stun and shock, sensual and erotic and the proper level of disturbing. Usually I find that when De Palma is creating or elaborating on characters, they are out of the ordinary, every day sort of people. In Passion, his latest work starring Rachel McAdams and Noomi Rapace, we see another kind of De Palma archetype evolve; that of the forward thinking, aggressive business woman as super human as the corporate world allows with humanity stripped out, fangs and claws set to grab for the brass ring. The story is a powerful one with murder mystery twist, complete with split screen and stunning score.
Synopsis from EOne:
Christine (McAdams, The Notebook, Sherlock Holmes) is a driven, devious executive at the sleek Berlin office of an international advertising agency. When her ambitious but outwardly shy subordinate Isabelle (Rapace, The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo trilogy, Prometheus) comes up with a brilliant ad campaign for a smartphone, Christine shamelessly takes credit for it, hoping it will bring her a promotion and a transfer to the New York office.
While appearing strangely forgiving, Isabelle in fact takes her elaborate revenge on her superior - which leads Christine to counterattack by setting up her own elaborate scheme to ultimately get her way. The teasing sexual interplay between the two women adds another layer of deception as De Palma employs all his stylistic flair to keep viewers on edge right up to the shocking climax.
The first thing you notice about this movie is that it feels completely inorganic. It’s as if the viewer steps into a modern art museum filled with sharp contrasty images, vivid reds and two tone set pieces that feel larger than life. The board room of life is portrayed as a wilderness in the style of Vogue or other style magazine. The whole thing feels tall and open creating large spaces for some larger than life character to fill. Each sequence will feel like an exhibit to be studied, leisurely, but you need to be ready to pick up some context clues if things seem to be ever so mundane. It’s shot in Europe, taking place in Europe and feels European. It’s advertising and fashion and the movie treads the runway along with the actresses on screen like a tight rope dance.
Passion is an exquisite dance of sexually charged power plays between several of the players. McAdams, who too often feels like an understated delicate prize, emerges as a veritable power suit with complete dominance over male and female characters alike. The duel nature of her role complete with suspected identical twin in tow is pure De Palma reminiscent of Sisters and Raising Cain. On the other side of the coin Noomi Rapace plays quiet, disturbed and quite possibly insane in an almost forgivable way as if a martyr whose cross has fallen off. I’m not sure if the transformations of each character was meant to inspire this, but I found myself rooting for Rapace’s character even when it was morally reprehensible to do so.
You may anticipate the ending, but it’s the character development that should leave you breathless. Even if you think you have the whole damn thing figured out, stick around to see how it plays out. Plenty of symbolism in each sequence, in Rapace’s disturbing dream states and even in the color choices used throughout the film. The end will leave you to meditate rather than completely shock and dismember your perception.
While this isn’t De Palma circa the 1970’s there’s plenty to enjoy, some new ground to break however slight and a visually stunning experience that feels like the best of American Psycho rapped in a different kind of homicidal maniacal shell. There are hints of neo-Giallo that are clearly missing a bottle of J&B and fedora, but can be forgiven due to some exquisite kills and a rather charming disguise.
You can pick up Passion now.