by Johnny Web (Greg Wroblewski)
As far as I can tell, Brian de Palma made only one significant mistake in his distinguished directing career: not retiring in 1996. After a long and successful run of escapist films which gave us so many guilty pleasures in the 70s through 90s, he seemed to fall apart like a cheap suit.
Here's his filmography, 1974-96 (IMDB scores in left parens)
(8.30) - Scarface (1983)
(8.00) - The Untouchables (1987)
(7.90) - Carlito's Way (1993)
(7.40) - Carrie (1976)
(7.30) - Blow Out (1981)
(7.10) - Dressed to Kill (1980)
(7.00) - Phantom of the Paradise (1974)
(7.00) - Casualties of War (1989)
(7.00) - Mission: Impossible (1996)
(6.90) - Sisters (1973)
(6.69) - Obsession (1976)
(6.60) - Body Double (1984)
(6.30) - The Fury (1978)
(5.80) - Raising Cain (1992)
(5.41) - Wise Guys (1986)
(5.32) - Home Movies (1980)
(5.30) - The Bonfire of the Vanities (1990)
Impressive. A dozen films rated 6.5 or higher, many of them regarded as classics, and/or cornerstones of American pop culture.
And here's what he's done since then:
(6.20) - Femme Fatale (2002)
(6.11) - Passion (2012)
(6.10) - Redacted (2007)
(5.90) - Snake Eyes (1998)
(5.60) - The Black Dahlia (2006)
(5.40) - Mission to Mars (2000)
And, to be honest, those lists don't even reflect that true contrast in quality between the periods. The films on the more recent list are generally overrated because he's Brian de Palma and people consider that when they make their ratings. If an unknown director had made those films, they would be rated lower, perhaps substantially lower in the case of Femme Fatale. Femme Fatale and Passion are so cheesy that some critics defended them as "intentionally bad" examples of genre-busting parody.
Unless you buy that theory, Passion is a disaster. Some scenes are as stylish as you might expect from DePalma, but the mystery is uninvolving, the script is trite, the enting is lame and unsatisfying, and the character details are uninteresting. (And how many times is DePalma going to drag out the "it was just a dream" cliche what was already shopworn in the 1950s?)
Surprisingly, given a cast of name performers, the acting is truly sub-par. Rachel McAdams tried to break out of her goody-goody rom-com image by playing a manipulative and kinky career woman with a sadistic streak, a role which she chose to attack with an over-the-top sensibility which would have embarrassed Joan Crawford. If McAdams was lacking in the subtlety department, Noomi Rapace more than made up for it by being so subtle that she basically only used a single facial expression: the glassy-eyed deer caught in the headlights. Most people, including me, once thought that she was an excellent actress based on her performance as Lisbeth Salander in the original Dragon Tattoo trilogy. It turns out that she was just fortunate enough to be cast as a character in her range, someone uncomfortable with human interaction, socially awkward, limited in emotional response, and possibly autistic. That particular range was magnificent to portray Salander, but has limited value in roles that require normality. I don't know whether she is really that inexpressive, or is simply incapable of performing in English. Perhaps she didn't understand the lines and was just mouthing them phonetically. To make matters worse, McAdams and Rapace seemed like Meryl Streep and Daniel Day-Lewis compared to the guy who played the two women's common love interest, who seems to be a re-animated corpse, and a rather obnoxious one at that. He did some "drunk" acting so cartoonish that Dudley Moore would have advised him to dial it down a notch.
This is a re-imagining of a recent French movie which I have not seen, Crime d'amour, which featured Kristin Scott-Thomas as the cold, manipulative boss and Ludivine Sagnier as the beleagured naif who works for her. As I read about that casting and thought more about the film, I wondered how much better the DePalma version could have been if Noomi Rapace and Rachel McAdams had simply switched roles. Granted, the age dynamic of Scott-Thomas and Sagnier could not be replicated, but neither was it replicated with the existing casting (Rapace and McAdams are the same age), and the switcheroo would have allowed both women to do things they are good at.
Ultimately I don't know whether to blame the actors or the script, but it's safe to say that the main characterizations fail the Gene Siskel test. You would not have dinner with any of these characters. Almost everything about them is dull, and the little that is not dull is obnoxious. You would not want to spend a minute in the elevator with any of them, let alone the time required for dinner or the 90 minutes it takes to watch this film.