I'm going to voice the question that many people are thinking, but aren't asking out loud. What the hell happened to Brian De Palma? Honestly. The guy has made some solid films, but he has been dead in the water for over a decade. Each of the films that he's made in that dead span have plenty of potential, yet not a one of them has proven to be worthwhile. I'd hoped that 'Passion' would get him back on track, but the amount of eye-rolling pain that it inflicted upon me extinguished that hope. Maybe it's time De Palma considers retirement.
'Passion' has all of the elements to be a delightfully wicked thriller: rivalry, naughty flirtations, lust, sex, scandal, temptation, manipulation, deceit, drugs and violence. Noomi Rapace and Rachel McAdams are credited as the leading ladies, but it's more of Rapace's story than McAdams'. Rapace plays Isabelle, the up-and-coming protégé of a marketing great somewhere in Europe. McAdams plays that powerful and industry-respected boss, Christine. The film kicks off with a strange scene showing the two of them giving a snobby (and drunk) commentary to a colleague's weak marketing proposition. We never see what they're picking on, but they both act like they can do so much greater. Their pretentiousness and arrogance immediately makes them an unlikeable pair.
The next morning, we get to see a different side to Isabelle. You see, when she's not trying to appease and win over her boss, she doesn't act that way. When in her presence, she matches Christine's personality and character just to suck up to her. Isabelle's arrogance seems like a put-on the next morning as we see that she truly has the talent to succeed in her industry. That arrogant I-can-do-better attitude from the night before may have been fake, but she really can do better than others. Her personal campaign proposal is a perfect match for the product and the client ends up loving it.
When Isabelle returns to the office, she joins a video conference with Christine's stateside boss, where Christine blatantly takes credit for Isabelle's concept right in front of her. Isabelle sits there in shock, unable to comprehend what her boss and so-called friend just did. Even after the conference ends, she's unable to respond. Knowing exactly what Isabelle is thinking, Christine utters the nasty tag line that's found on the Blu-ray's cover art: "No backstabbing. Just business."
What ensues over the next 30 minutes isn't bad. The two begin a bitchy battle to sabotage one another. Their scandalous behavior goes far, but could have gone farther. Things start to get wild, but not in a good way. 'Passion' starts off in the right direction, but quickly veers into a less-than-entertaining direction. At one point, it gets so wild that I found myself thinking, 'Really?! This is where it's going?! And it's all especially downhill from there. But long before that point I noticed something that started grating on me – the performances resemble a blend of those from a 1960's thriller and a standard melodramatic soap opera. Rapace and McAdams have each made me cinematically fall in love with them this year – Rapace is on my short list as Best Actress for 'Dead Man Down' and I absolutely adore McAdams in 'About Time' – but both of their performances are ridiculously bad in 'Passion.'
If you've been intrigued by 'Passion,' if you've wanted to see Brian De Palma do something worthwhile again, if you enjoy Noomi Rapace and/or Rachel McAdams, or if you want to see a spicy and scandalous thriller, think again. What starts off as mildly amusing and full of potential gradually strays in De Palma's continuous dead zone. No more than halfway through, it turns into an unbearably bad viewing experience that ultimately robs 102 minutes of your precious time. Even if you expect this failure and still decide to give it a shot, I highly doubt that you'll find any satisfaction in it.
The Blu-ray: Vital Disc Stats
Entertainment One has placed 'Passion' on a problematic BD-25. The disc is housed in an amazing red Elite keepcase that isn't pictured anywhere online, but no matter how awesome I think that case would look amongst the others in my Blu-ray collection, I know that I'll never sit through 'Passion' again. The cover art is identical to the film's theatrical poster. Prior to the main menu, there's a FBI warning, a commentary disclaimer and an eOne vanity reel, followed by skippable trailers for 'Diana' and 'We Are What We Are.'
It doesn't require counting the barcoded rings on the Blu-ray's underbelly to tell the size of 'Passion's disc. By simply watching the movie you can tell it's a BD-25. It doesn't matter that the film has been given a 1080p/AVC MPEG-4 encode because of how flawed it is.
The opening eOne (Entertainment One) vanity reel reveals the first of many band-filled shots within the film. Quite a bit of flickering noise is riddled throughout the picture that not only covers dark sections of the screen, but it dusts the entire frame. Aliasing also pops up a few times.
Close-ups and medium close-ups have the potential to reveal great details – the individual strands of Noomi Rapace's huge bangs, facial stubble on the leading man's bearded face and tiny pores on McAdams' smooth face – but there's another bad element that has the tendency to undermine them. 'Passion' is an overly bright film. I cannot say how much of this is a directorial decision, but I can't imagine that a director would sacrifice detail just to brighten up his/her picture. The brightness is relentless. This flaw is only enhanced, in a negative way, by fickle contrast. Wider shots are overran by a brightness that chews away the nice details of the close-ups.
Some dark scenes are so blown out that should-be deep black levels are unmistakably gray. Even the film's colors are inconsistent. One shot reveals McAdams walking down a sidewalk from afar. The framing of this shot accents her pink dress as she walks towards the camera. But the next scene shows her after she's gotten off the sidewalk and into her limo. The interior scenes clearly show that her dress isn't pink at all, but absolutely red. Seductively red. Unless the costume department made a big mistake, it's a flaw of the movie/disc.
'Passion' carries a nice lossless 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio disc and, for some reason, a lossy similar 5.1 Dolby Digital track. Of course, for this review, I watched the film with the lossless one.
Of the entire audio track, I only have one scene-specific complaint with the mix. In once scene, Isabelle and Christine attend a fashion show rehearsal. As the typical fashion show house music plays, the two share a few lines of dialog, of which I couldn't decipher a single word. The remainder of the dialog in the film is perfectly intelligible.
Sounds effects aren't constantly being used, but when they are, they offer great punctuation to their scenes. Our leading duo attends a classy gala filled with hobnobbing pretentious folks. The clickity-clack of high heels on marble flooring echos through the channels. At the same time, snobby chatter bounces around the space.
The audio track isn't perfect, but the film itself doesn't call for an exemplary experience. Sure, the track occasionally skews to the front and there's a lack of bass which not only removes some of the audio's depth, but caused my sub-woofer to shut off due to inactivity, but this isn't the type of film to call for an exemplary experience. It pretty much achieves exactly what it needs to.
As much as I wanted 'Passion' to be Brian De Palma's return to greatness, it definitely is not. In fact, it's quite bad and only gets worse the more thought I put into it. Despite loving McAdams and Rapace, the acting and the story turn 'Passion' into a silly soap opera that's not worth caring about. The sexy and scandalous content couldn't even keep my attention. And as if that's not bad enough, the mediocre video quality and blown out brightness make the film a giant eye sore. Even though the audio quality is decent, no other aspect of the Blu-ray makes it worth wading through. The only somewhat special feature on the disc is a seven-minute promotional reel, so the bonuses aren't even worthwhile. Truthfully, this is a disc worth skipping entirely.