Brian De Palma has traditionally worked best when indulging the grand gesture, with the overblown confidence of someone drunk on their own talent, but with the proper self-awareness not to take himself too seriously. But coming off two alternately stale and incensed films (2006’s The Black Dahlia and 2007’s Redacted), it seemed as if the lurid soil that De Palma has most fruitfully tilled over the years wasn’t territory he wished to revisit anytime soon. But as Pino Donaggio’s dramatically sensual score (his first for De Palma since 1992s Raising Cain) greets the opening titles of Passion, De Palma’s first film in five years, it’s clear that this master of the erotic thriller is back on home turf, with all the luscious violence, sensationalistic flourishes, and base pleasures that has come to entail.
Based on the recent French thriller Love Crime by Alain Corneau, Passion utilizes its parent film’s narrative of corporate betrayal as mere framework for which De Palma to dress in all kinds of lustrous detail, with sleek, sharp angles dissecting each composition, turning the sterilized confines of an advertising agency into battlefield of concrete forms and conflicting emotions. Starring Noomi Rapace and Rachel McAdams in an apprentice/mentor tug of war, Passion pits these characters as inversions of one another: Rapace’s Isabelle is innocent and naïve, but with enough natural talent to threaten McAdams’s Christine, a beautiful, manipulative executive who’s used every asset at her disposal to advance in the business world. As in many of De Palma’s great wars of will, there’s just enough of Christine reflected in Isabelle to trigger the aesthetic and narrative techniques—visual doublings, doppelgangers, voyeurism, shifting identities—needed to ignite the stylistic formulations on which the film hinges.