NYFF ‘12: Passion review

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Filmmaker Brian DePalma has sustained a long career making a wide variety of films across different genres from “Scarface” to “Mission: Impossible” to “Carrie” to “The Untouchables.” Cinephiles, however, are more likely to celebrate another side of the auteur. During the 70s and 80s DePalma made a series of the psychological thrillers (including “Dressed To Kill,” “Body Double” and “Blow Out” among others) which gave the auteur a chance to unleash his trademark cinematic pyrotechnics — swirling camerawork, split screens — while exploring his fascinations (sex, violence, the work of Alfred Hitchcock). Upon their release these films drew mixed reactions from critics who accused DePalma riding too fine a line between paying homage and stealing from his influences. But over time they’ve grown in estimation among film fans who admire the go-for-broke theatrics even as the films themselves may have date. (Have you seen "Body Double" recently? Wow.)

So after a half decade away from the camera, there’s a certain thrill in seeing the director get back to doing what he does best. In “Passion,” (a remake of the 2010 French film “Love Crime”), DePalma finds the perfect vehicle to indulge his cinematic obsessions. The film concerns two women: icy executive Christine (Rachel McAdams) and creative director Isabelle (Noomi Rapace) who become entangled in a web of jealousy, lies and eventually murder. Isabelle comes up with a supposedly brilliant viral campaign for a new camera phone which Christine takes the credit for, explaining that she would expect her to do the same if the tables were turned. And shortly thereafter the tables are turned and it’s Christine who is left licking her wounds as Isabelle is offered the position in NYC that Christine had been after. To complicate matters, both women are having an affair with a man (Paul Anderson) who’s embezzling money from their company.

All of the workplace drama in the first-half of the film is heightened and fairly silly, the film’s notions about what makes a viral video and how advertising works being particularly outdated. But it’s damn fun anyway as McAdams purrs and vamps as Christine, probably her most extroverted role since “Mean Girls.” As the film goes along (without spoiling exactly who and what), someone is murdered and one of these women must try to prove her innocence. The second half of the picture loses some of the trashy fun of the first half but replaces it with rococo camerawork, canted angles, split screens and a heavy dose of film noir lighting courtesy of cinematographer Jose Luis Alcaine (on loan from Pedro Almodovar). DePalma also recruits one of his longtime composers Pino Donaggio (“Carrie,” “Dressed To Kill”) for a bombastic score. It’s a B-movie and minor work for the filmmaker but still a fair bit of fun for anyone who misses the the feel of those earlier works.