It’s sort of hard to believe that anyone could make the dopey 2010 French thriller Love Crime more ridiculous, but Brian De Palma manages to do just that with Passion, a mostly faithful remake. The final movie directed by Alain Corneau, Love Crime is a trashy, pseudo-titillating story about a ruthless corporate shark (played by Kristin Scott Thomas) and the meek employee (played by Ludivine Sagnier) she terrorizes to the point of fury. In De Palma’s version, the age difference between the two characters has been erased, and the lesbian subtext has been clumsily brought to the surface. Passion features advertising executive Christine Stanford (Rachel McAdams) alternately flirting with and berating her skittish subordinate Isabelle James (Noomi Rapace), which eventually leads to one horrible act of violence. In Love Crime, that act is the turning point that shifts the movie from a sleazy erotic thriller into a convoluted police procedural. In Passion, De Palma uses it as an excuse to go completely nuts.
A plot this moronic deserves nothing less, however. De Palma keeps the basic beats intact, but he draws out the first half of the story, with Christine and Isabelle playing a sort of cat-and-mouse game in which Isabelle is at a clear disadvantage. They compete over the same man, a slimy lawyer played by Paul Anderson, and they jockey for power in their ill-defined workplace. Christine is clearly a veteran at this sort of thing, and she fancies herself Isabelle’s mentor until Isabelle starts to beat her at her own game. The manner in which Isabelle triumphs at work is laughably unbelievable, as she creates a “viral” ad campaign that makes it seem like De Palma has never seen or even heard of an actual viral video.
Rapace and McAdams also lack the chemistry that Thomas and Sagnier displayed in Love Crime, even if De Palma makes their physical attraction more explicit. McAdams manages to channel a bit of her Mean Girls performance as the disturbingly chipper ice queen, but Rapace is wholly unconvincing both as a timid underling and later as a vengeful scorned woman. The movie’s main redeeming quality is De Palma’s typically dazzling visual style, with a number of quietly virtuosic long takes as well as some of his trademark split-screen during the crime that sets the final act in motion.
De Palma’s skewed camera angles and unnatural lighting schemes give the whole second half of the movie a dreamlike quality that’s only amplified by the writer-director’s deviation from Love Crime’s mundane (if tortuous) plot elements. The last 20 minutes of the movie descend into a sort of haunted fever dream, as Isabelle faces off against her devious assistant (Karoline Herfurth), the constant attentions of the police and the potential appearance of another version of Christine. Although De Palma is a pro at making the ludicrous seem sophisticated, and it’s refreshing to see him tackle another lurid thriller after too many years away, even he can’t make Passion’s plot twists palatable. As a narrative, Passion is just as idiotic as Love Crime, although at least De Palma gives it some style.