Runs Fri., Sept. 27–Thurs., Oct. 3 at Sundance Cinemas. Rated R. 102 minutes.
Along with its other shortcomings, Passion is woefully mistitled. This off-key exercise is drained of any authentic juice, belying its apparent place in the crime-of-passion film tradition. But then passion has never been the long suit of its director, Brian De Palma, whose strengths have been his fiendish cleverness and his often giddy intoxication with the movie-ness of cracked stories and characters. Those talents find their footing mainly in some humid dream sequences in the third act of Passion, where De Palma finally asserts himself. Until then, the film has been a bland remake of Alain Corneau’s quite dandy 2010 film Love Crime, a trim tale that mixed All About Eve with The Servant and threw a big, bloody murder into the mix.
In this telling, set in the offices of a marketing behemoth’s Berlin office, stiletto-shod executive Christine (Rachel McAdams) takes credit for the ideas of her chief assistant Isabelle (Noomi Rapace), soothing her underling’s hurt feelings with assurances of the importance of teamwork and the occasional kiss on the lips. The back-stabbing doesn’t end there, as Isabelle is sleeping with Christine’s kinked-up lover and embezzling colleague, Dirk (Paul Anderson). The levels of humiliation and subordination continue, yet De Palma (who also wrote the adaptation) doesn’t particularly savor that back-and-forth, even if those exquisite machinations are a large part of the appeal of a movie like this.
What’s worse is the generally flaccid tone, and especially the awkward performances. De Palma has been accused of lacking an interest in non-homicidal interactions between human beings, and rarely has that been more evident. McAdams never lacks sharpness, but the rest of the cast, most of them non-native English speakers, are seriously out of rhythm, and everybody’s way too busy “indicating” instead of inhabiting their thoughts and feelings. Rapace, so dynamic in the Swedish Dragon Tattoo trilogy and Prometheus, looks completely ill at ease; like De Palma, perhaps she’s comfortable only in a certain kind of heightened genre picture. Which, by description, Passion ought to be. But by the time we reach the end of a series of corkscrewing nightmare scenes, it’s hard to detect that the filmmaker of Dressed to Kill and Body Double actually believes in his own lurid plot twists any more.