Isn’t it funny when the title of a film is exactly what it’s lacking? Passion, from director Brian De Palma, is a remake of a 2010 French film called Crime d’amour. It centers on two women at an advertising firm and their desire to move up in the world. It features deception, and lust. It wants to be an erotic thriller, but it’s mostly just confusing. At times, you won’t have a clue what’s going on. That’s intentional, but it doesn’t make for a great watch.
The film’s lead is Isabelle (Noomi Rapace), who is trying to make a name for herself in the advertising business. Her boss is Christine (Rachel McAdams), who is hoping to move to New York and gain a higher position in her company. The film takes place in Germany. Christine is in a relationship with Dirk (Paul Anderson), who on a trip to London has an affair with Isabelle. Christine seems to find out, and even seems to want Isabelle for herself. Christine takes credit for an advertisement that was Isabelle’s idea. The two begin a feud that is filled with sexual tension.
Or, it wants to be filled with sexual tension, but in reality it just has the two leads stare at each other rather blankly and kiss a couple of times with little reason. There’s a lack of, well, passion to the proceedings. Maybe “Passion” is an ironic title. It’s all about career advancement and possibly getting revenge on someone who could jeopardize that. There isn’t love here and the leads don’t exhibit anything that could be misconstrued as “emotion.”
The film also changes dramatically in tone at the two-thirds mark. It becomes less about office politics and more like a murder mystery. A third character, Isabelle’s assistant named Dani (Karoline Herfuth), gets more involved. A murder (or maybe two or three or four) occurs. Blackmail is threatened. Copious amount of drugs are taken which allows De Palma to go crazy when it comes to filters and the cinematography. Dreams within dreams become frequent — or do they? It’s chaotic, unfocused, and if you’re able to make heads or tails of it on a first watch you’re a smarter person than I am.
No, I couldn’t follow the final third of Passion. Even when one character begins recounting the events, we still get more confusion afterward. The plot, as laid out in text, reads as silly. When it’s playing, it’s moderately successful at keeping suspense, although it does so more because you won’t know what’s going on at any given time. Sometimes the twists and turns feel arbitrary. It’s never unwatchable but if you can’t handle not knowing what’s happening you’ll want to skip this one.
It’s fun to watch Rachel McAdams chew scenery as Christine. She is seemingly omnipotent and watching her attempt to fish responses out of people and then enacting revenge on them is funny. Not thrilling, but funny. You might be able to interpret Passion as a black comedy. It’s too hard to take seriously and I can’t imagine a director like Brian De Palma not being able to make a serious thriller from this material.
At least this isn’t a visually dull movie. That’s one thing you’ll rarely be able to accuse De Palma of. He is someone with a keen sense of style and some of the angles he chooses are not what you’ll typically see. There’s even a split-screen scene in Passion, which further adds to the confusion. I keep coming back to this point because Passion is just so terribly confusing. You can’t separate its good elements from its lack of narrative cohesion, even if that’s done on purpose. The overwhelming feeling of “what?” overpowers everything else.
I’m not even sure if it all adds up. I don’t want to watch Passion again to find out or even think about it a great deal more than I already have. This is trash. High quality, good looking trash, but it has no pretensions at being anything more than a sleazy and confusing thriller. The latter part is overdone. If it all does work out, it doesn’t feel like it does in the moment. Even during the explanation — where one character delivers a monologue telling us exactly what happened — I wasn’t being convinced.
Noomi Rapace is almost completely emotionless as the lead. She has a nervous breakdown once and it’s laughable; her strength seems to be playing strong roles who aren’t required to show vulnerability. That’s why she was so great as Lisbeth Salander. This works well enough against McAdam’s more showy role. The best work probably comes from Karoline Herfurth in what initially seems to be a small role but winds up being crucial. Is that a spoiler? It doesn’t matter — you won’t be able to tell what’s going on anyway. One could read a plot synopsis and then watch the movie and still not be sure what’s going on.
Passion is trashy and on a certain level will probably be enjoyed by some as just that, but if you want any sort of coherence to a narrative, you won’t find that here. This is a confusing film — so much so that its confusion overpowers any of its positives, like director Brian De Palma’s unique style, which is on full display in later portions of this movie. Passion is moderately entertaining and does keep you guessing, although it leaves you unsatisfied and its actors are varying forms of passionless.