Tuesday, December 3, 2013

Brian De Palma proves he still has ‘Passion’

He is the master of widescreen Panavision panache, the cinematic priest of perverted delights, and the ultimate director’s director. Brian De Palma was a formidable force throughout the 70s and early 80s delivering the horror classics “Carrie” (1976) and “The Fury” (1978) and his notorious, trademark sexually charged Hitchcock-ian homages “Sisters” (1973), “Obsession” (1976), “Dressed to Kill” (1980), and the wildly entertaining “Body Double” (1984). His acclaimed conspiracy thriller “Blow Out” (1980) features John Travolta’s best performance. “The Untouchables” (1987) is a classic and the outrageous “Scarface” (1983) is one of the most referenced movies of all time.

After a series of forgettable director for hire gigs in the 90’s (with two exceptions, “Carlito’s Way” and “Snake Eyes” ) De Palma returned to form in the dazzling 2002 “Femme Fatale” starring Rebecca Romijn and Antonia Banderas and then went on to direct Scarlett Johansson and the luminous Mia Kirshner in his underrated adaption of “The Black Dahlia” (2006). Now with “Passion”, De Palma has come full circle and returned to his auteur roots of the erotic thriller.

“Passion” is based on the 2010 French film “Love Crime”, but make no mistake about it—even though it is not an original screenplay—“Passion” is pure De Palma. It is pure Rachel Adams and Noomi Rapace too. The two stars simmer across the screen under the assured voyeuristic De Palma lens as he weaves into the high tech advertising world of manipulations with a series of lingering one take set pieces the director is famous for. Watching a De Palma film—and the way he frames a shot and moves the camera and keeps us in the moment by not cutting away—is to see a master craftsman at work. It is the ultimate film school.

De Palma has a way a filming beautiful woman and we see his gift on full display here, especially with Rachel McAdams. She is lit and photographed very similar to the how Rebecca Romijn was for “Femme Fatale”. The American megastar actress thrives in this provocative role as a seductive and ruthless boss who manipulates everyone around her. When Rachel McAdams is on the screen, it is impossible to take your eyes of her.

As she did last year in “Prometheus’ Noomi Repace proves why she is such big star in Europe. The chemistry between her and Rachel McAdams—as well as with co-star Karoline Herfurth—is electric.

Where “Passion” falls short—as is the case with most post 80’s De Palms films—is the narrative. The movie could be tighter. This does not have the crackerjack pacing of “Dressed to Kill”, “Body Double” or even “Femme Fatale”. And there are a few scenes that do not go far enough in terms of sexuality.  But these are minor flaws easily overpowered by De Palma’s knockout visual style and the smoldering presence of the two stars who inhabit their roles with an intoxicating enthusiasm.

No review of a Brian De Palma movie can be complete without mentioning the score. The director is one of the most astute in film history when it comes to utilizing music in his films and he has worked with many outstanding legendary composers including Bernard Hermann and John Williams. But perhaps the composer who best represents De Palma’s sensibilities is Pino Donaggio, his collaborator on such classics as “Carrie” (1976), “Dressed to Kill” (1980), “Blow Out” (1981) and “Body Double” (1984). The composer and director are reunited for “Passion’ and the result is an outstanding soundtrack that contributes enormously to the suspense and eroticism.

Bottom line: **** out of four.

“Passion” is a wild, entertaining, old-school giallo styled thriller packed with visual delights, solid performances, masterful camera work, and a sensational musical score. 

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