Holy shit, Brian De Palma made a new movie. It’s a remake of the 2010 French thriller LOVE CRIME, but it’s still a new Brian De Palma movie. Rachel McAdams from MEAN GIRLS plays Christine, a grown-up mean girl high up in an advertising firm. Isabelle (Noomi Rapace, DEAD MAN DOWN) has a big career opportunity coming to Christine’s place to work on a smart phone campaign. She’s nervous but they get along well. Christine seems to be a cool boss and collaborator until she brazenly takes credit for the ad that Isabelle came up with and created entirely without her. Even worse she convinces Isabelle that it was okay to do that to her because they’re a team and one’s success makes the whole team look good or some bullshit like that.
You want to feel sorry for Isabelle, the movie sets you up to side with her, even though it turns out she’s fucking Christine’s boyfriend Dirk (Paul Anderson – an actor, not the director, or the other director for that matter). And recording it on her phone. Wrong and stupid.
There’s alot of sexual tension going on between all the women here. Christine often seems to be trying to seduce Isabelle, both sometimes look like they’re jealous of Dirk being with the other one, also Isabelle has a faithful assistant named Dani (Karoline Herfurth, THE READER) who is clearly in love with her and hates Christine partly out of jealousy.
Christine often behaves like a cruel bitch, especially at the employee party where she plays security camera footage of Isabelle having a mental breakdown and pretends like it’s a hilarious sports blooper tape or something. But there are signs of a possible soul. At one point Isabelle softens to her when they spend some time together and Christine tells her the sad tale of her twin who died. This is tragic and also makes the sex game where Dirk has to wear a mask that looks like her seem even more psychologically troubling.
I’m glad Rapace got all these roles out of her DRAGON TATTOO stint. She’s a weird combination of elements that I really enjoy watching. She’s about equal parts good looking and strange looking, with her round head and flat nose. She can seem very feminine and sexual even though she’s kinda broad-shouldered and athletic looking, making her good for more action roles. She can switch from naive innocence to implied dark side on a dime, which is why she’s perfect for this.
I like that I didn’t have any idea where this would go. Halfway through it really seems like it might just be about treachery and duplicity and lust between these two women and a couple men on the periphery. A portrait of the combination of hate, attraction and obsession that happens between women working together and competing in the corporate world, at least according to movies like this. And I was fine with that.
But at a certain point that top shelf De Palma filmatism kicks in, and you can feel the R-rating’s promise of “some violence” circling like a shark. Or I guess teetering on the edge of spilling like a slow motion bucket of pig’s blood. There is split screen and classical music and a long drawn out build up to a sudden murder. Later there are reveals of withheld information, some ambiguity about who has been lying, what we were really seeing, what was a dream, etc. If you ask me there’s one too many rug-pullouts right at the very end, it feels a little cheap that one of the more outrageous and classically DePalmian elements might not have really happened, but maybe I read it wrong. For the most part it’s a well-controlled boil of all the ingredients here.
Other than THE COUNSELOR, the movies I reviewed this week (MAN OF TAI CHI, REDEMPTION and PASSION) all had very limited theatrical releases in the U.S., available at the same time or earlier on video-on-demand (and later on disc). Considering how much I liked all three of these (as well as the MANIAC remake, which had the same type of release) I think it tells you something about the types of movies that they’re doing this with. These ones all have a combination of genre elements and artfulness. I hope it’s working out for them business-wise, because this seems like a good place for this category of movies that I love so much. It’s a way to get it to the audience that wants it without having to please everybody else. Although, of course, I would’ve seen this on the big screen if I’d had the chance.
Can you believe De Palma hasn’t made a movie since 2007? And that was REDACTED? Between that and DIARY OF THE DEAD, 2007 was the year of my favorite directors embarrassing themselves with heavy-handed found footage movies where the fake-realistic visual style horribly clashes with the broad, melodramatic dialogue and acting. At least Romero’s had a guy shooting arrows at zombies, though. REDACTED made you almost want to apologize for being against the war.
Both De Palma and Romero were really taken with the modern technology, that people were filming everything now with small digital cameras, and sharing their lives on Youtube. They were way more impressed than I was that they could make movies that look like home videos and security camera footage. With PASSION, De Palma was able to get over his fascination with re-creating those sorts of videos, stick with his expertise in cinematic style, while heavily featuring technology in the plot of the movie.
The first shot zeros in on the Apple logo on the laptop that they’re watching videos on. These characters are constantly texting, video conferencing, emailing. They make sex videos and record incriminating footage on their phones. They’re working on an ad campaign for a smart phone, they record a commercial on the phone itself, and when it gets rejected by the firm they upload their version to Youtube. Christine takes bubble baths with a special shelf to sit her laptop on. Crucial thriller elements include a printout of a threatening email (that’s actually kinda quaint) and a disposable phone programmed to upload incriminating videos to an inspector.
PASSION is not as masterful or as audacious as the last great De Palma film, 2002’s FEMME FATALE. Maybe doing a remake kept him shackled, his feet too close to earth. But it’s a really entertaining movie that somebody else probly wouldn’t make, that lets him play with alot of his favorite themes and still, at the age of 75, try out some new filmatistic techniques. The one I can’t remember exactly seeing before is in the scene where she’s supposed to be confused because of sleeping pills. The police are questioning her, but the camera keeps drifting its focus away from them, it can’t seem to pay attention. It puts you into her perspective, but also makes you feel unsure and insecure yourself just when the story is trying to leave you confused in the dark. I haven’t seen the original, so I don’t know if that was in there or not. If it was, thanks for revving De Palma’s engine for him, guys.
VERN has been reviewing movies since 1999 and is the author of the books SEAGALOGY: A STUDY OF THE ASS-KICKING FILMS OF STEVEN SEAGAL, YIPPEE KI-YAY MOVIEGOER!: WRITINGS ON BRUCE WILLIS, BADASS CINEMA AND OTHER IMPORTANT TOPICS and NIKETOWN: A NOVEL. His horror-action novel WORM ON A HOOK will arrive later this year.