It’s not the throat slittings, strangulations, fetish masks, drug-fueled nightmares or murderous lesbians that make Brian De Palma’s “Passion” so enjoyable. Those things are all quite wonderful, but what’s really special here is that they’re handled so effortlessly. There’s a lightness to “Passion” that I wasn’t expecting, a playful insouciance that informs the entire film, from the first quirky notes of Pino Donaggio’s retro score to the final grisly tableau. I was completely charmed by it.
It’s really two movies for the price of one. The first is a dirty little office comedy about beautiful people stabbing each other in the back to get ahead. The second is a dreamy psycho-thriller about beautiful people slashing each other in the throat to get revenge. Both are a lot of fun.
De Palma’s artfully composed split-screens, prowling steadicam and deep-focus diopter shots help goose an already nifty story into something memorable. Admittedly, the bigger fan you are of the director, the better the film will probably work for you. I love the guy, but your results may vary.
Unlike Bret Easton Ellis’s tone-deaf dialog in Paul Schrader’s otherwise curious “The Canyons,” De Palma’s script is intentionally funny. What a relief! There’s nothing smug or self-important at work here. It never takes itself too seriously, but doesn’t devolve into a joke, either. That’s a delicate line for an erotic thriller to walk, but “Passion” pulls it off quiet nicely.
Rachel McAdams, an actress I’ve never felt strongly about, is terrific as the ethically-challenged corporate honcho whose kinky sex games set the twisty plot spinning. After Rebecca Romijn’s semi-awkward performance in the well-crafted “Femme Fatale” and Scarlett Johansson’s somnambulant interpretation of a human being in “The Black Dahlia,” it’s a pleasure to see De Palma directing someone who appears fully engaged with the camera for a change. McAdams seems almost giddy at times, hungrily chewing as much scenery as she can get her manicured fingers on.
It took me a while to get on Noomi Rapace’s odd wavelength, but once I did her casting made perfect sense. There’s something alien about her, something icy, yet fragile. The darker the story gets, the more comfortable she seems in it. Pairing her with the vibrant McAdams was a great idea, as the two contrast beautifully on screen.
I might be overselling it, but that’s okay. I thoroughly enjoyed “Passion” and look forward to seeing it again (and probably again after that). It’s not a big film. It’s not a baroque horror tale like “Raising Cain,” or a Grand Guignol masterpiece like “Dressed to Kill.” The ending doesn’t make much sense, and I’m not sure if the mystery-plot plays fair with the audience. But it’s stylish, smart and funny, and just eerie enough to make you check your closet before going to sleep afterward.