NOTE: This review was originally posted on September 11, 2012 after I saw it at the Toronto Film Festival. I am re-publishing it today as it arrives in limited theaters this weekend.
Passion plays as if writer/director Brian De Palma took Alain Corneau’s screenplay for Love Crime, added on six minutes to the ending and shot every scene in one take no matter how well it turned out. All the elements from Corneau’s original are here, but none of the intrigue. It’s a stilted and stiff production with absolutely zero fluidity from scene to scene and lines such as “How about you call me… NEVER!” after Rachel McAdams is stood up by her booty call and she tosses her cell phone across the room. It’s big moves, daring proclamations and over-acting met with an absence of thrills. The score tells you things are about to get intense, but it isn’t long before you realize that’s just not the case.
I should note my opinion of this film is going to be much different when compared to someone that hasn’t seen the original. Curiously enough, however, someone that hasn’t seen the 2010 feature, starring Kirsten Scott Thomas and Ludivine Sagnier, may like it even less because they won’t know what to expect and will check out before ever getting to the scene that gave the first film its title. Outside of the tacked on ending and approximately ten minutes of story development, this is essentially a shot for shot remake and the differences are damning.
The story centers on a pair of businesswomen that have grown close in the eight months they’ve worked together, but soon a power struggle is in play as Christine (McAdams) begins taking credit for Isabelle’s (Noomi Rapace) hard work. Not one to question authority, Isabelle lets bygones by bygones, but with her assistant (Karoline Herfurth) yapping in her ear she eventually musters up the courage to use Christine’s dirty business tricks to her own benefit. Things get dicey from there.
Billed as an erotic thriller, Passion is anything but. Attempts at eroticism come across staged and cheap, and thrilling is far from an apt descriptor. De Palma does attempt to confuse the audience with “are they or aren’t they?” dream sequences and a rapid-fire melange of images and scenarios in the end, but this reeks of last second desperation more than strategic filmmaking.
I wish I could at least say McAdams and Rapace were good in their roles, but my biggest fear walking in came true. These two actresses were the 100% wrong choice for these characters. Both are made to look like they can’t act worth a lick as McAdams is wholly unable to convince us she’s a powerful business executive and Rapace gives off the appearance of never acting before. Worse are the scenes with the two, though you could argue De Palma was going for cheesy and over-the-top and if that’s your belief maybe you’ll sit back and laugh your whole way through.
Paul Anderson plays Christine’s boyfriend Dirk and if the goal was to appear as a smarmy lowlife then job well done. And I guess Herfurth’s performance as Isabelle’s assistant is mildly enticing, with a look that consistently had me thinking of her as a mash-up of Franka Potente meets Emily Blunt, but just mentioning Blunt in comparison is too high of praise.
Unfortunately, while I was looking forward to seeing Passion I had my doubts and they were proven accurate. Rapace and McAdams were just wrong for this film and De Palma attempts to turn this into a visual narrative rather than a well-developed one. He’s clearly going for a certain style as light casts across faces and mystery lies in dark corners, but even that felt plastic and fake.
Considering I do like the original there was some element of interest in seeing it told differently from a visual perspective, but the atmospheric original with its far more intricate telling of the story makes this one look like a cheap knockoff unlikely to be heard from ever again.