Passion Review

(2.5 STARS)

Passion seems like the absolutely perfect title for the latest thriller from director Brian De Palma. An absolutely batshit crazy film with a truly internal logic that folds in on itself at every turn, Passion‘s four lead characters all think they’re in love at various points throughout the film. Love and lust—i.e. passion—are two very different things, however. There’s lots of passion on the screen, but nothing resembling love. Maybe that’s why these four fall back on lying, manipulating, backstabbing, murder, and…uhh…creepy sex masks.

The film takes place in Berlin and focuses on a pair of hotshot ad execs. Isabelle (Noomi Rapace) is quietly driven, and her creativity catches the eye of her boss, Christine (Rachel McAdams), who’s not so much talented as she is conniving. After Isabelle and her employee, Dani (Karoline Herfurth), come up with a brilliant campaign strategy, Christine steals the credit and earns a big promotion.

Isabelle is perturbed, but she quietly gives Christine her just desserts by sleeping with the woman’s boyfriend, Dirk (Paul “don’t call me T. or W.S.” Anderson). At Dani’s urging, however, Isabelle takes this professional rivalry one step further—she uploads the campaign to YouTube. It becomes viral, and suddenly, no more promotion for Christine; it’s Isabelle who’s the shining star.

To say Christine takes the news poorly is the understatement of the year, and I’ll leave her methods of retaliation for you to discover. Needless to say, what starts out as a sort of off-beat battle of wills between two one percenters devolves into something much more sinister and twisted. Passion is very much a case of De Palma being De Palma—a type of filmmaking you probably already know whether you love or hate. If “De Palma being De Palma” brings to mind deliciously pulpy dialogue, delightfully stilted performances, and a living, breathing aesthetic, Passion will be a real treat.

Of course, there’s the flip side to that coin, and as much as I admired aspects of Passion, it’s a bit of a train wreck. Just imagine this: three young women seem to be the only employees at this enormous (both physically and, I guess, economically) advertising agency. Also in this world, an unbelievably stupid ad that’s uploaded to YouTube in the dead of night can earn 10 million views over a five-hour period. Neither Isabelle nor Christine (which isn’t even to mention the horribly developed Dani) is anything more than a caricature—Isabelle of a good girl gone bad, Christine of the devil incarnate. I found these characterizations (or lack thereof, I suppose) rather amusing, but anyone trying to take Passion at face value will likely shield his or her eyes from the awfulness of the entire enterprise.

What’s undeniable, however, is Passion‘s appealing, sumptuous look. Few, if any, filmmakers have De Palma’s eye for angles. As the film ticks on (and following a fantastic split-screen sequence), Passion becomes a real fever dream—a noir-tinged, what-is-real whodunnit that tosses everything including the kitchen sink at the viewer without much thought toward logic or reason. And like the first half of the film, some works, some doesn’t. But this is when he pulls out all the visual stops, and the end result is some of the best cinematography of the year.

Would if I could heap similar praise on the film as a whole, but it just doesn’t come together in any kind of coherent way. And with that, there’s not much else to say about Passion. It’s a Brian De Palma movie—freaky, totally frivolous, and a lot of fun.

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