Posts Tagged ‘Passion’

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This week’s DVD offerings included sexy lesbian noir thriller Passion, starring Rachel McAdams and Noomi Rapace.  This feels like a film they don’t make anymore.  DePalma is the product of a bygone era, and he’s also been hit-and-miss.  Passion is mostly hit, as the drama escalates and the noir fetishism ramps up steadily from start to end.

What struck a chord with me was the surveillance aspect.  Lives today are in jeopardy of exposure at every juncture.  The story plays with this constant surveillance in several ways.  The two main characters, Christine and Isabelle, work in advertising to sell more smartphones.  They do so in a viral styled ad that covertly records strangers on the street, their behaviors captured and then exploited to sell more of the surveillance.  The video enabled smart phones are a key factor and present throughout the plot.

Passion clip: watch Rachel McAdams and Noomi Rapace in the new film from Brian De Palma

Beyond embarrassment, pressure, psychological button pushing, there is the inevitable blackmail, something we’ve talked about vis a vis the NSA. Blackmail, the erosion of privacy, constant surveillance, we may have moved beyond the kitchy “post 9/11” motif and well into the post-privacy environment, the post Snowden world.  This makes the film relevant for its many tentacle connections to the age of Youtube and nosy neighbors, co-workers, private mercenary firms and intelligence agencies.  The seething cauldron of exposed lives that cannot escape the surveillance cameras’ gaze boils here and simmers.

While Passion may not have lived up to its title, it does offer a journey that is relevant today.  With DePalma’s grandiose camera setups and orchestra, the film feels like some classic old Hollywood cautionary tale of a future dystopia that turns out to be 2013.

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There is a lesbian aspect to the characters, although I’m not quite sure if that was all that important to the story.  The titillation and the eye candy of it all amounted only to bait the hook.  The plot is a straight murder thriller, like many that have come before.  A mindfuck moment occurs at the climax, and we aren’t certain what really happened, and that was interesting.  It’s good to throw the audience off-kilter and even better with crooked Dutch angles and extreme Venetian blind shadows.  So – it’s that kind of movie.  Not great, not bad, but somewhere in the middle.

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by Joe Giambrone

Spoilers may follow.

Recently watching Deception (2008), I was disappointed with the story, and then got to thinking about Bad Influence (1990) which is the same kind of story – done better.  A mousy, shy guy is introduced to the wild life of debauchery, but there are ulterior motives.  I had wanted to post on Bad Influence already and call it a Cult Classic.  So then I got to thinking about a lot of other psychological thrillers that use the allure of sex as bait to hook the audience as well as the lead character, play with their desires and manipulate their perceptions of unfolding events.

Femme fatales are as old as Blue Angel (1930), and probably predate her.  Some of the more memorable ones that stick in my mind are The Last Seduction (1994), Basic Instinct (1992) and Wild Things (1998).

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These types of films often lose their way by the end, either in plotting or in their moral compass.  The B list is littered with innumerable misfires that fell short somewhere along the path.  It is very difficult to spin new twists that we haven’t seen before and have them remain plausible, meaningful, and keep to a theme that resonates.

My problems with Deception, besides its slow dragging pace, are mostly with its ending.  Ewan McGregor has been played by a couple of grifters, and he’s framed for the murder of a blonde he’d fallen for, sorta.  The body in the morgue isn’t hers but a look-alike.  The real blonde is supposedly held hostage unless McGregor steals millions from his client and wires it to an account in Spain.

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McGregor then realizes that his blonde is in on it too, a femme fatale.  He sneakily arranges it that a partner’s signature be required to withdraw funds from the Spanish bank.  McGregor shows up in Spain to claim half the money, going into partnership with the murderous grifter (Hugh Jackman) who framed him.  There are two endings that can follow, the theatrical one and the deleted one on the dvd.  Neither works.

In the deleted ending, McGregor takes half the money and rides off into the sunset.  He’s basically given the murderous thug who framed him $10M, given up on the girl, and decided to disappear into wealthy obscurity.  He’s certainly lost his moral compass and become one of them, to a degree.  Was this the intended resolution of a story that had him battling to save a girl held hostage for so long?  It’s a disconnected resolution, and was rejected by the studio.

The theatrical ending goes over the top.  McGregor and Hugh Jackman stand outside the Spanish bank holding $10M each in suitcases.  McGregor offers $5M for the location of the blonde who betrayed him – he’s still in love.  Jackman says he’ll deal.  They walk to the park.  Jackman pulls out a pistol to kill McGregor.  From nowhere, the blonde shoots Jackman dead.  The blonde apologizes and runs off.  McGregor leaves $20M lying there in the park by the dead guy and runs off to find the blonde.  She says she can’t be with him and leaves.  McGregor, no money, no identity ends up in a city plaza, and the blonde just happens to be in the same plaza at the same time.  A smile.  The end.  Really?

Allowing that getting a fake passport that actually works these days is a tall order, especially in one day for a guy who knows nothing about crime, the girl also managed to get herself a firearm in Spain, secretly track the men and take out the armed and dangerous Jackman without the slightest hitch.  It seems totally out of the blonde ingenue’s character and beyond belief.  Then they just leave $20M for the cops.  This was supposedly “dirty money” in the first place and no one is looking for it.  Okay, McGregor chooses love over money, but the blonde isn’t really all that lovable, and she knows it.  He doesn’t fight for her, and just lets her go, which is where a plausible end should have been.  But then he miraculously stumbles upon her again while trekking through Europe?  It’s easy to blow the finish, and studio pressures for happy endings can really mess up any sense of direction a film may have built up.

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The draws in Deception and Bad Influence are wild sex encounters with strangers.  Deception uses an elite call list to arrange hook ups.  These are played quickly and coldly, lacking passion and rather voyeuristically.  Bad Influence uses traveling one-night only rave styled sex parties.  In both films, the devil’s salesman recruits the curious man to expand his horizons, edging him out of his cocoon.

I prefer Bad Influence over Deception for several reasons.  Here, James Spader is a mid-level corporate shlub, and he comes upon Rob Lowe, who has the keys to Lucifer’s kingdom.  The events are raw and faster paced.  Lowe reveals himself as a sociopath by degrees.  When Lowe murders a girl in Spader’s apartment his psychosis is delivered with shock, setting up a clear moral battle.  Spader is outgunned and outwitted, and there is no grey area about who he is or what he’s doing.  He’s not in it for the money, and he’s not playing games, as the evidence to frame him for murder is in Lowe’s hands.  Definitely a more satisfying film with more passionate actors who really disappeared into their roles.

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Directing a hot, lesbian murder mystery…

DePalma on Passion

“First we were going to set it in London, but then we were going to do the interiors in Germany. But after looking at some of the stuff in Germany that was supposed to be London, I said, “Why don’t we just shoot it all in Berlin?” It’s an international corporation. So that’s what we did, and we had to find particularly interesting locations, which is always something that I’m a stickler for. If it doesn’t look good in a photograph, then why is it in your movie? Because a movie’s trying to put the camera in a place that’s perfect for a particular action taking place. I think about it all the time.”