Passion

Lame film, made worse
★★
☆☆☆
Released: 
2012
Director: 
Brian De Palma
Starring: 
Rachel McAdams, Noomi Rapace, Karoline Herfurth, Paul Anderson
The Setup: 
Rivalry between two businesswomen gets deadly.
Discussion: 

It's the new De Palma film! And it's a return to his erotic thrillers! And he made it in Europe exactly the way he wants! So all was sounding perfect. But... now it's been floating around for about a year, and has garnered only tepid to poor reviews. Finally it is available On Demand, with a small release in a few theaters, making one wonder at a world in which the new Brian De Palma film can't even get a wide theatrical release. But now, having seen it, On Demand pretty much seems like the perfect place.

This is a remake of a French thriller, Love Crime, which I watched a few weeks ago in preparation for seeing this. If you want to see this one, I recommend seeing the original first, as it will provide a lot more pleasure and interest in seeing how De Palma rearranges certain elements and takes the story on surprising tangents. So we have Rachel McAdams as Christine, marketing executive, and her assistant Noomi Rapace as Isabelle. In the original, it was Kristen Scott Thomas and Ludivine Sagnier, so you had an older-younger dynamic, which worked very successfully, but is gone here. They are working one night at Christine's house--the opening shot is on the Apple logo on their laptop--when Christine's lover Dirk comes over. Before departing, Christine gives Isabelle a scarf of hers. Both the crucial fact that Dirk is Christine's lover and the important gift of the scarf are given short shrift here.

That night, Isabelle gets an idea for a commercial for their cellphone. She calls her assistant Dani [a redheaded German woman here, a gay man in the original] and they make a low-fi version of the commercial. It is new to this version, and seems De Palmian in that it revolves around men leering at women's asses. In the morning, Catherine suggests that Isabelle go to London in her place--we know that she has a hot sex date to stay home for--and Isabelle does. While there, she and Dirk get together. What's lost in this version is the touch that Catherine threw Dirk to Isabelle as a manipulation. Anyway, soon we are to believe that Isabelle and Dirk are in love.

The commercial is a hit! And Catherine takes credit for it. She says that she just sends Isabelle to "mouth word for word" what she originally said. And it gets Catherine the job in New York she's been hoping for! When the call is over, Catherine says "What? You would have done the same thing in my place. It's business. You need to grab for your chance." So Isabelle is quite out of sorts, and Catherine is turning up the manipulation. She also tells Dirk that their little financial agreement, in which he was borrowing against the company, is over now, and he needs to pay up, now. Which will ruin him.

Soon Dani brings Isabelle a document that proves Catherine's involvement in Dirk's financial scheme. She files it. In here, we briefly see Catherine agreeing to buy a Manhattan apartment, another important touch I think gets short shrift in this version. Then word comes down that the American company is forcing all these changes on the commercial idea. Isabelle uploads the original commercial to YouTube, and overnight it generates nine million views. The client is thrilled, and the whole thing is revealed as Isabelle's idea after all. Now Catherine's move back to New York isn't so assured after all--which is why it was important we see that she's already bought an apartment. Catherine is furious, but Isabelle says What? This is exactly what you advised me to do. Which doesn't sit so well with Catherine.

SPOILERS > > >
Dirk has earlier, after being told Catherine is going to ruin him, broken off with Isabelle. We are to assume that Isabelle had feelings for him, something that's not clear in either version, but telegraphed a bit more successfully here. Then he calls, asking to meet her at the office, but stands her up. When Isabelle calls him, Catherine answers, and makes fun of her. Now there's a beautiful shot of a yellow lobby in which Isabelle runs crying, before entering a green elevator. She gets in her car and crashes it in the parking garage, freaking out, all captured on the security cam.

We see Catherine go into Isabelle's office and write an email as Isabelle, threatening Catherine. That night there's a big party, at which Catherine shows the video of Isabelle freaking out, making a though it's just good-natured fun. Isabelle is obviously deeply hurt and shamed in front of everyone. The next day, Isabelle is a nervous wreck, and is popping these anxiety pills. The color scheme of the film also changes dramatically, to saturated blue with red highlights, so extreme that one wonders if everything now is supposed to be a dream. But no, turns out to represent Isabelle's drugged-up haze. Catherine shows Isabelle the email, and keeps it as leverage. Then, in a wholly new scene, Catherine corners Dani and accuses her of being in love with Isabelle. She then forcibly kisses her, rips her own shirt open and threatens sexual harassment. Not really welcome additions, and adds a more vulgar thread to the story, which will soon be expanded upon.

Isabelle goes to the ballet. Catherine had a party, from which Dirk is just leaving, drunk. We have a split screen, seeing the ballet on one side, and an intruder sneaking into Catherine's house. Eventually Catherine is confronted, and we catch a glimpse of the killer--in Catherine's white face mask. Catherine's throat is slit. So yay, it's one of De Palma's split screens, and is hailed in many tepid reviews as the best part of the movie... but it really is among the least successful of his setpieces. Usually the split screen shows the same scene from two perspectives, ratcheting up tension as you struggle to piece them both together, or at least show two elements that are somehow related, but here the ballet has no relationship to the stalking, and there is no reason to watch it. It's just contrasting the serene ballet with the violent murder, which is fine, but offers relatively few rewards. Anyway, Catherine is dead.

Now you know that everything from now on will also spoil the original film, correct? In the original, we see right away that Isabelle did it. She plants evidence, pointing to herself, at the crime scene, including having Catherine write "Isa" in blood. We don't see any of that here, and don't find out for sure that Isabelle did it. She retires to bed, and the police come to her door. She is taken in and questioned, all groggy on her drugs, and we find out that Catherine had a shred of her scarf--the one Catherine gave her at the beginning--in her hand when murdered. The evidence looks overwhelming, and finally Isabelle confesses: she did it. Then a few days go by, the drugs wear off (and the color scheme returns to normal) and she goes back in and says: no she didn't.

Now, the entire second half of the original was devoted to the ingenious way in which Isabelle set up the murder and got away with it, which was kind of the point of the film. A tepid version of that is here, but rushed through so quickly it hardly has the impact, and De Palma adds a number of unwelcome elements. He also omits whole characters from the original, vastly streamlines story elements, and eliminates clues. After a lot of mucky-muck, Isabelle is cleared, and, producing the financial document, she has Dirk arrested. This is why the original was "Love Crime," although almost nothing in the film points to that what Isabelle and he shared was love.

Anyway, now we have a return to the Apple logo--I do hope De Palma was paid handsomely for this and didn't just give it as a gift to Apple--and we have a recreation of the opening shot, only this time it's Isabelle and Dani working together, implying that the same relationship now exists between them. Dani finally makes a play for Isabelle, and Isabelle flatly refuses, a bit too harshly for someone who has known Dani for a while, and then: the movie flies to shit. Everything from here to the end is all new, all garbage.

Dani whips out her cell phone and it turns out she has VIDEOS of the murder, Isabelle at the crime scene, Isabelle planting the bloody scarf in Dirk's car, Isabelle leaving the ballet the night of the murder, the girl has it ALL, right on her cell. She forces Isabelle to be in a lesbian relationship with her, or else she will expose her. First, you're like "Wow, homophobic plot twist! Back off, De Palma!" because it's a bit much to swallow on the face, and that's after you've spent the entire movie with sweet, protective, supportive Dani. Now she suddenly turns PSYCHO. Then you think "Wow, this is Rooney Mara's second movie, after Side Effects, that has predatory lesbians as its big plot twist!" Rooney, that's enough. And both of you: NOT APPRECIATED.

So Dani has forced Isabelle into this lesbian relationship, and they go to the funeral, where there is a woman who looks exactly like Catherine! Is she still alive? Is it that twin she mentioned? Then the detective on the case says to another guy that he never apologized to Isabelle for all of the charges he made against her. So then, some night, Isabelle wakes up and finds the cell phone with all the videos! And she's about to destroy it when--Dani wakes! She attacks! And in the struggle, somehow the home gets armed to send all the videos to the police! And at that moment... the Catherine clone is coming to their apartment! Also at that moment... the police inspector is coming with flowers! At 3am! And in the struggle, there's a very real danger that one of their toes might hit the "Send" button!
< < < SPOILERS END

This last bit is revealed to be a dream, but certain elements of it are apparently real. And if you care, maybe you want to figure out which is which. Me, personally, I am prepared to go a long way for De Palma and accept a lot of what he's ready to throw out... but this all was a bit much for me. Which can kind of be said for the whole film.

So I didn't love the original film, and my problem with it was that it didn't have a third act, there was a setup, a murder, and then the murder was unraveled, the end. I was interested in what De Palma would do with it--and what interested him about it--and I guessed that he would be into the procedural aspects of the crime and... who knew what else? Seems I was wrong about that, as he actually leaves out numerous aspects of creating the crime, but he does layer a great many of his own interests over the story, like lesbian-tinged business relationships, cameras that record secret things and show multiple perspectives, men leering at women, precise crimes, doppelgängers, and lurid sexuality, in this case, predatory lesbians. Some of them, like the increased presence of cell phones as cameras, worked (to a limited extent), but most miss, and ultimately I think he made the film worse, not better.

It's too bad, because McAdams is fun, if underdeveloped, as a cunning sociopath, and Rapace is excellent as a wide-eyed innocent who turns the tables. Certain aspects of the European marketing world are well handled, and... well, who knows, I'm done talking about this movie. It was a disappointment. I was prepared to believe that the critics had missed the mark, or not understood De Palma, but nope. He made a not-great film worse. In ways that make me, for the first time, really question his judgement. Way too bad. Why doesn't he just remake Vertigo? I mean, I know he did, but I mean a straight-up remake. Just go for it, man.

Should you watch it: 

I wouldn't even bother, but if you're going to, I would watch the original first.