Thursday, 15 August 2013



Any new film by Brian De Palma is to be welcomed. A new suspense thriller by Brian De Palma is to be seized upon with joy. The very prospect of the director of Sisters, Obsession, The Fury, Dressed To Kill, Blow Out, Body Double, Raising Cain and Femme Fatale, returning to his trademarked twisty psychological thriller stamping grounds raises expectations to perhaps unreasonable levels, but the dull wet thud with which this finally hits the screen indicates not that it's a terrible film - it isn't - but that it isn't another glorious Hitchcockian pastiche which, deep down, is what we all really wanted from it.

Passion is actually De Palma's first official remake since Scarface in 1983 and, while that film obviously looks, sounds and feels nothing like the 1932 version, this follows so many of the beats of 2010's Love Crime that it's probably a disadvantage to have seen it. The initially close working relationship between top advertising executive Christine (Rachel McAdams) and her assistant Isabelle (Noomi Rapace) starts to fracture when Christine steals the credit for Isabelle's ideas. Following public humiliation and personal betrayals, it's hardly surprising when Christine is brutally murdered and Isabelle is the obvious suspect - but did she do it? All the evidence points to her, from an incriminating email to her sudden pill-popping which seems to have affected everything from her memory to her inability to sleep....

It may seem unfair to look at a film predominantly in the light of another film, but it is a remake and if they didn't want comparisons then they should have made something original. And the differences between Passion and Love Crime are where most of the flaws lie. Most serious is the loss of any age gap between the two women - Kristin Scott Thomas is nearly 20 years older than Ludivine Sagnier while McAdams and Rapace are pretty much the same age - either makes you think that Christine is surely too young to have reached such a high position or Isabelle is too old to be a mere assistant, and more crucially it allows the erotic undercurrent to be ramped up too much. (The gender swap of Isabelle's own assistant allows the lesbianism to be made far more blatant, but to no great end.) Little plot alterations don't matter too much - here Isabelle's alibi is that she went to the ballet, not the cinema - but shaving two decades off the age of one of the main characters, turning her from a mature woman unwilling to be overtaken by youngsters into a fairly generic high-powered office icebitch (I could have done without her dropping the C-bomb as well), robs Christine of most of her depth.

What's really surprising is that for much of the time it doesn't really feel like a Brian De Palma film, and it's only in the closing sequence (which isn't in Love Crime, incidentally) that memories of Dressed To Kill's thrillingly overblown coda come flooding back: a connection explicitly underlined by Pino Donaggio's score rehashing the sound and mood of that earlier masterpiece. Granted, it's a vintage De Palma setpiece, brilliantly shot and cut (and including a shot straight out of Argento's Tenebrae), but it comes far too late and seems strangely at odds with the rest of the movie. The split-screen sequence - another De Palma favourite - also doesn't add very much this time out as one of the screens stays on the ballet. It's a crying shame as the only clear improvement on Love Crime is having a Pino Donaggio soundtrack rather than unmemorable ambient noodlings - and even then it's not hugely in evidence until that end sequence which doesn't even need to be there, as it robs Passion of the subtler, tidier and more satisfying conclusion of the original. For the most part, surprisingly, the ghost of Hitchcock hangs more over Love Crime than Brian De Palma's restaging.

Maybe it would have helped if I hadn't seen Love Crime a few months ago, so I wouldn't have known just how high Passion needed to aim. But on both levels - as a remake of an existing movie and as Un Film De Brian De Palma - it doesn't spark and it doesn't catch fire until that tacked-on finale when he finally gets his finger out and overdirects like he's supposed to. There are some terrific moments, and the story is certainly strong enough to survive the tinkering, but ultimately it disappoints. Certainly not without interest, though: just not enough.


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