Passion (US - BD RA)
Gabe is sorely disappointed by Brian De Palma's lackluster return to thrillers...
Christine (Rachel McAdams) is a driven, devious executive at the sleek Berlin office of an international advertising agency. When her ambitious but outwardly shy subordinate, Isabelle (Noomi Rapace), 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. (From EOne’s official synopsis)
Brian De Palma has had the most enduring, mainstream success with horror movies ( Carrie), crime movies ( Scarface and The Untouchables), and big screen spectacles ( Mission Impossible), but he will always be mosty remembered among cineastes as one of a select few heirs to Hitchcock’s throne. His best, or at least his most personal films, are almost all stylish, suspenseful, and increasingly violent thrillers. Like many of his contemporaries, especially those that specialized in the horror and thriller genres (John Carpenter, Dario Argento, George Romero, etc.), De Palma’s career has endured major dips in quality/popularity throughout the last couple of decades, but for every Bonfire of the Vanities and Black Dahlia he makes a Carlito’s Way or a Femme Fatale (which I’ve never seen, but hear was pretty great). Despite multiple ‘comebacks,’ his last two films, Redacted (2007) and Passion (2012) were not given major theatrical releases. In fact, Passion wasn’t given any theatrical release in the United States. This isn’t entirely unexpected (it was a French/German/Spanish/UK co-production), but was disappointing considering De Palma’s six-year absence from a major theatrical release.
It’s fair to assume that no studio bothered releasing Passion in US theaters because it isn’t very good. And it isn’t. It’s tonally off-balance, minus the flair and sensationalism that saves some of his other overly-referential movies, like Body Double and Raising Cain. The typically bravado director doesn’t disguise Passion’s narrative shortcomings with his patently stylized, complex filmmaking, at least not for the first two-thirds of the runtime. There are some split diopter shots, I guess, but the overall film is so un-cinematic with its rhythmless editing, ugly transitional fades, and lame optical zooms, that it looks like it was made for television. As the protagonist’s mental state deteriorates, the imagery gets a bit more heavy-handed, including longer shadows excessive Dutch angles, but it still looks oddly cheap. Then, at almost exactly the one hour mark, De Palma interjects the single most unmotivated split-screen sequences he’s ever made. Flashy images with narrative purpose were never his forte, but his techniques have usually served the storytelling on some level. In this case, our attention is divided between an avant garde dance routine and a Dario Argento-inspired POV stalking scene (complete with black gloves) that would’ve been much more suspenseful and dramaticm had it been allowed to occupy the entire screen.
The script was co-written by De Palma and Natalie Carter, based on Alain Corneau’s original film (which Carter also co-wrote). I haven’t seen Corneau’s film, but imagine it must’ve conveyed the stakes of the drama more successfully. The convoluted plot is unveiled via pronounced exposition ensures that the audience witnesses almost every step of the process leading up to the third act’s central crime. Then, despite spending two acts explaining exactly what was going to happen, De Palma treats the final 30 minutes like an almost standalone murder mystery. Even the reveal of the killer’s identity is expected, because of the way he shoots the lead-up to the murder. The only time the film really comes to life is at the very end, when one ridiculous twist gives way to another, leading to the goofy, pulpy, post-giallo thriller we expect from De Palma at this point in his career. The cast does alright with the stiff, awkward characterizations they’re saddled with, but no one is capable of overcoming the material. Rachel McAdams plays a villain whose only purpose is to be cruel and Noomi Rapace plays a pawn whose only purpose is to be victimized. Their battles are emotionally unrelatable, tonally inconsistent, and would only really work in the context of a high school-based comedy, like 10 Things I Hate About You or Mean Girls. As the film opens De Palma strikes a surprisingly mirthful, almost Woody Allen-esque tone that is quickly discarded. Had this tone been maintained, Passion may have worked as a thinly veiled satire of De Palma’s older work.
After experimenting with digital HD cameras for the multi-media Redacted, De Palma returns to 35mm for Passion. I’m immediately surprised that De Palma and cinematographer José Luis Alcaine (known best for his collaborations with Pedro Almodóvar) aren’t using the director’s preferred 2.35:1 framing – it’s 1.85:1. It’s not unheard of; it’s just unexpected. EOne Entertainment’s 1080p transfer is problematic, beginning with its ongoing brightness level issues and what looks like a sheen of CRT machine noise. The frame is constantly buzzing with very unfilm-like grain and macro-blocking effects. Details are relatively crisp and complex, but marred by haloes, and the vibrant colours are tainted by cross-coloration, along with some banding effects. Reds are still vivid and blues rich, but the more neutral hues are tinged green. The white levels appear totally overloaded to the point that facial details are burned into utter flatness when set against lighter backgrounds. The blacks are not damaged by the cross-colouration effects and remain thick, deep, and sharply separated from the other elements. Camera phones play a consistent role early in the film, though, so there are some definitely digital shots peppered throughout. The fact that these don’t really appear all that different from the rest of the footage kind of corroborates my assertion that this transfer is overly digital-looking.
This Blu-ray features a DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 soundtrack that achieves quite a bit with a generally dry aural environment. The majority of the sound is nestled in the center channel, including the majority of the dialogue and a whole lot of both incidental and supposedly immersive sound effects. I imagine that this is not a problem with the disc, just a part of the original sound design. There are a handful of dynamic moments and some multi-channel effects sneak into the mix, but nothing particularly outstanding. Perhaps more exciting than De Palma’s return to sultry thrillers is that he’s doing it alongside composer Pino Donaggio, a long-time collaborator that he hasn’t worked with since Raising Cain in 1992. This score matches Donaggio’s other Herrmannesque work for De Palma in terms of swirling high strings, but a bit of bouncing oboe at the beginning of the film and some electric bass at the end set it apart from the likes of Carrie and Blow Out. The music is the stereo and surround channel’s key component and includes some decent directional movement and LFE enhancement.
The brief extras include fluffy, EPK interviews with De Palma, McAdams, Rapace, and Karoline Herfurth (7:10, HD), and a trailer.
I’m afraid that, aside from a bizarrely manic, nonsensical final 10 minutes, Passion is not a good movie. It looks cheap and flat, the first hour creeps by, and the unbalanced tone is maddening. It’s more like a semi-talented film student’s impression of a Brian De Palma film than the kind of thing the real Brian De Palma should be making. EOne’s Blu-ray image quality is uncharacteristically shoddy as well, though I’m not convinced this is entirely their fault and not the fault of a bad 35mm scan. The DTS-HD MA soundtrack is fine and extras are minimal.
* Note: The above images are taken from the Blu-ray and resized for the page. Full-resolution captures are available by clicking the individual images, but due to .jpg compression, they are not necessarily representative of the quality of the transfer.
Review by Gabriel Powers
Under 17 requires accompanying parent or adult guardian
Release Date: 5th November 2013
Disc Type: Blu-ray Disc
Audio: DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 English
Subtitles: English SDH
Extras: Director and Star Interviews, Trailers
Easter Egg: No
Director: Brian De Palma
Cast: Rachel McAdams, Noomi Rapace, Karoline Herfurth, Paul Anderson
Genre: Crime, Drama and Thriller
Length: 102 minutes
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