I’ve never been a big Brian DePalma fan (although I will allow that the original Carrie is pretty much perfect.) But even though I find his work to be uneven for the most part I still respect him enough to give him a chance whenever he puts out a new movie. Passion, however, was bad enough that I might have to revoke his always-worth-a-try pass.
I could spend a lot of time criticizing so many aspects of this movie. Like the way Rachel McAdams is miscast as a femme fatale in a role that Sharon Stone or Catherine Deneuve would have murdered a few years ago, but which she bungles through because her innate likeability makes her seem ridiculous in the role of an ice queen. Or the way that this movie muddles the exposition so badly that the first hour of the movie is a total mess, so the relationships between the characters are never quite clear (which becomes a real problem when they start backstabbing.) The setting is frustratingly vague (I assumed they were in London till someone left to go to London; ditto New York; it was possibly in Germany? But no one spoke German or had accents…) The plot in particular is a shitshow, with the stakes being shifted with every plot twist rather than elevated; it can’t decide if it wants to be an erotic thriller, a blackmail movie, a whodunnit, or quite what, but all of it seems ridiculous and unbelievable.
But I think that the most succinct way to explain just how much Brian DePalma has lost whatever common sense he had is to explain the above image. At one point in Passion Noomi Rapace decides to have sex with her boss's lover, and when he wants to tape it she lets him, even though that's clearly not a good idea. When we see the footage later, we can see him watching himself in the camera, as sex tape participants often do. Because this is a movie that hinges on plot twists and reversals of fate, of course Rachel McAdams discovers the tape of her employee having sex with her lover. When McAdams video-chats Rapace to call her on this betrayal she shows Rapace her the sex tape footage so she can't deny her misdeed. So at this point we are looking at Rapace looking at McAdams looking at video footage of their mutual lover looking at himself. I think DePalma thought of it as a neat little Russian nesting doll of voyeurism, but it struck me as the exact sort of overkill that you would use if you wanted to create a parody of his style. You’re only one more level removed from being so ridiculous that it becomes a total joke – if the camera pulled back to reveal that Rapace was under police surveillance I would have laughed out loud instead of just feeling grumpy about it.
I can handle the fact that this was narratively sloppy. I could even accept the fact that it tells a patently fake story in a too-serious way. But what I can't handle is the fact that it feels like a self-parody. It's sad to think of this coming not from a hack or a would-be auteur who has yet to master his trade, but instead coming from a person who actually did have it together enough to produce classic films at one point. It's trilling to watch the house and the school and everything else fall apart at the end of Carrie; watching everything fall apart at the end of DePalma's career is a lot less fun.
Winner: The Cat