Brian De Palma’s ‘Passion’ is mostly just for fans

Noomi Rapace and Rachel McAdams play dueling ad whizes in Brian De Palma's "Passion." Credit: Entertainment One Films US
Noomi Rapace and Rachel McAdams play dueling ad whizes in Brian De Palma’s “Passion.”
Credit: Entertainment One Films US

‘Passion’
Director: Brian De Palma
Stars: Rachel McAdams, Noomi Rapace
Rating: R
4 (out of 5) Globes

It’s been a decade since the last “proper” Brian De Palma film, which is to say one up to his seductive, pervy and not always logical standards. The new “Passion” — just like 2002’s even more insane “Femme Fatale” — has been widely acknowledged as a fans-only enterprise, frustrating to innocents expecting a straight-ahead thriller that makes sense. (In between have been the unloved, though hardly worthless, runts “The Black Dahlia” and “Redacted.”) But it’s not that weird. Only in its final stretch should non-die-hards be lost, namely once characters are seen repeatedly bolting awake, sweat-drenched, from apparent nightmares — just like in one of the director’s most hated (but brilliant) ventures, “Raising Cain.”

Till then, “Passion” is a surprisingly sort-of-faithful remake. The 2010 French film “Love Crime,” from the late Alain Corneau, is the text, which told of an ad exec (Kristin Scott Thomas) stealing a campaign idea from her mousy but furtively ambitious — possibly even vengeful — assistant (Ludivine Sagnier). De Palma is himself about to be remade, with yet another go at his 1976 blockbuster “Carrie.” As though knowing this — and having done his own riffs on Hitchcock and even Michelangelo Antonioni — he respects the source he reworks while furiously tacking on his own imprint. Here, the actresses are of the same age: Rachel McAdams is the boss and Noomi Rapace her aggrieved underling. This being De Palma, the plotting is a bit more tangled, and the girls make out a lot more.

If “Passion” teems with De Palma’s thematic obsessions — chiefly sex, love and relationships as business transactions, changing along with an evolving playing field — it takes an hour for his visual tics to crop up. There’s a split-screen sequence for the ages, but it’s held off. And his usually wandering camera is oddly locked down. The passion, as it were, comes through largely in the performances. McAdams, summoning her “Mean Girl” villain, is vampish and Telemundo, hurling objects when pissed and throwing multiple exclamation points into her purple sentences. Rapace is all seething jealousy and creepy laughing faces. Only as the story goes nuts does De Palma, the maker of sensuous, show-off camera moves and ecstatic editing coups, truly join in their fun.

It’s been sad to watch mass culture move away from De Palma, even as it finally catches up with certain once-hated efforts (“Blow Out,” “Scarface”). His Hitchcockian thrillers were once as mainstream as you got, even as they came ready to be picked apart by academics and those into that sort of thing. “Passion” works its maker’s production woes into its plot, which turns on Rapace throwing together an ad — an ass-cam commercial selling tight jeans— that is deemed by the powers-that-be as “too arty.” Frustrated at a looming crappy remake (with “real actors”), Rapace throws it online, where it becomes a viral sensation.

Not that De Palma was so cutting edge in real life. “Passion” came about by a more traditional alternative route: through European money. The commercial itself is arguably the most De Palma thing in the film: all mirrors and people standing on different planes, in a film whose shots are otherwise direct, almost meat-and potatoes. Not that this is another compromised work. It’s just one that is a little more open to fresh faces — even if by the final shot only the die hards are left smiling.


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