Passion, Getaway, and A Single Shot

A De Palma comeback, an Ethan Hawke car wreck, and another good Sam Rockwell performance.

Murder, deceit and treacherous lesbians – yes, after five years in the professional wilderness, director Brian De Palma is back. His new movie Passion is a remake of Love Crime, the last film by the late French director Alain Corneau, and in re-scripting it, De Palma has jacked up the story for maximum kink. (What’s sex, after all, without masks and strap-ons and dangling strings of Ben Wa balls?) The movie is essentially a tour of the director’s familiar obsessions (the spirit of Alfred Hitchcock hovers over it like a blimp -- everywhere you look you see the master’s shadow). But the plot twists have a nice nasty tang, and the picture is never for a moment dull.

Christine Stanford (blazingly blonde Rachel McAdams) is the Berlin-based head of the German outpost of a New York advertising agency. She’s determined to transfer back to the more prestigious home office, so when a mousy underling named Isabelle (Noomi Rapace) comes up with a great new ad campaign for one of the movie’s many brazenly placed products, Christine steals it. “This is business,” she tells the astounded Isabelle. “You have talent. I made the best use of it.”

Christine attempts a glib rapprochement (“Why don’t we kiss and make up?”). But Isabelle isn’t really the doormat Christine assumes her to be. And after Christine entertains an office-party gathering with a video of Isabelle in a sweaty sex wrangle with one of the agency’s biggest clients – a crumbling drunk named Dirk (Paul Anderson) – Isabelle plots revenge, recruiting a coworker named Dani (Karoline Herfurth) to assist. And what does Dani want? Christine is in no doubt: “You think I don’t know what’s going on in that dyke brain of yours?”

The plot is relentlessly twisty, filled with mysterious pills, gleaming knives and a visit to the ballet that suggests a theme of male insufficiency. The air of paranoia is enhanced by lurking camera surveillance, and De Palma wheels out most of his time-tested technical effects: Dutch angles, dolly zooms, split screens and deeply designed overhead shots. Cinematographer José Luis Alcaine, a longtime Pedro Almodóvar associate, is just the man to capture the movie’s sumptuous surfaces – the rich silks and velours, the chilly chrome-and-white interiors – and to punctuate them with very Almodóvarian daubs of bloody crimson (shoes, dresses, logos). And composer Pino Donaggio, a longtime De Palma collaborator, provides a rich Hitchcockian score (complete with a stab of Psycho-like strings).

Passion is hardly a breakthrough for a director with more than 40 years of features behind him. But the movie is good, devious fun. And it makes you wonder why De Palma wasted so many years turning out box-office duds like The Black Dahlia and Redacted when he could have been doing what he does here, what he does best. Even if he’s doing it all over again.

Getaway

Even in the realm of really bad movies, Getaway is a special kind of awful. The picture is virtually one long, loud, brain-hammering car chase, with brief pit stops along the way for the script to unload some implausible exposition before roaring off again at full screech. Sounds like an action movie, doesn’t it? But action requires style and spirit, and precision editing. Getaway might have been edited with a weed-whacker; it has the spirit of a movie-distribution deal; and schlock impresario Courtney Solomon – who gets to direct stuff like this because he runs After Dark Films, the company that churns it out – probably wouldn’t recognize style if it ran him over.

Although it only slowly becomes clear, the story is set in Bulgaria. Why? Well, apart from the obvious – Bulgaria is a cheap place to make movies – the capital city of Sofia is where the film’s American protagonist, Brent Magna (Ethan Hawke), currently resides. How come? Well, Brent is a former professional race-car driver who got into some vague sort of trouble with bad guys back in the States, and decided to move here with his Bulgarian wife (Rebecca Budig, an American actor making no attempt to seem otherwise) in order to “lie low.” Okay.

One night Brent comes home and finds his apartment trashed and his wife gone. His phone rings. On the other end is a nameless master criminal played by the murmuring lips and stubbly chin of Jon Voight, attempting to channel Rutger Hauer. This character has Brent’s wife in his clutches, and if he doesn’t spend the rest of the night doing exactly what Voight wants, his wife will die. Brent’s first assignment is to go to a particular parking garage and steal a “special car” that’s waiting there. This turns out to be a Ford Shelby GT500 Super Snake -- $90,000-worth of hulking automotive muscle. Voight has had the car fitted out with cameras inside and out, and a phone link through the dashboard GPS. He orders Brent to get moving, and to do as much street damage as possible while he’s at it.

Who would own a $90,000 car in Sofia? That question is answered in a traffic clog, when a nameless girl (Selena Gomez, looking about 12 years old) hops in and whips out a gun. It’s her car! (And her gun, too, presumably.) Dashboard Voight tells Brent to bring her along – it’s part of his all-seeing plan -- and after some rote bickering she decides that maybe she can be of help. (Along with the gun, she also has an iPad.)

There are several destinations on Voight’s mysterious agenda. As whole fleets of police cars sail through the air and tumble and burn behind them, and thugs with guns and rocket launchers amazingly fail to take out the Super Snake, iPad girl finally works out what’s going on (it has to do with her wealthy dad). But why has Voight chosen Brent to advance his wildly complicated agenda? The answer to that question, delivered at the end, is astonishingly idiotic.

I would guess that Ethan Hawke takes on jobs like this to subsidize less-remunerative undertakings in the theatre, or in Richard Linklater films. Moviegoers might consider a more rewarding activity as well.

A Single Shot

Like Passion, A Single Shot is already available on VOD, and in that venue it’s worth seeing, if only for the actors, especially Sam Rockwell, as a dim-bulb West Virginia loser, and Jeffrey Wright, as his stumbling, booze-addled pal.

Rockwell plays John Moon, who lives in a dismal shack out in the woods. While hunting deer one day, he takes a potshot in the direction of some rustling branches and discovers he has killed a young woman. Then he discovers she has a case filled with cash – lots of it. Unwisely, the jobless Moon begins flashing his newfound funds around the nearby small town. This arouses the suspicion of his estranged wife (Kelly Reilly) and a weaselly lawyer (William H. Macy), and soon draws the attention of a pair of sinister drug dealers (played with terrific creepiness by Joe Anderson and Jason Isaacs). The tension mounts as Moon steadily tightens the noose around his neck.

Working with a screenplay by Matthew F. Jones (adapting his own novel), director David M. Rosenthal (Janie Jones) ratchets up suspense without losing focus on his characters’ subtle complexities. (Moon is a man who wishes he were brighter than he is, and Wright, who pays him a memorable visit with a pair of slovenly women, is a guy who can no longer make sense of whatever it is that’s going on.) Cinematographer Eduard Grau (The Awakening) is a substantial asset to this brooding production, capturing the backwoods atmosphere in all of its damp, moldy hopelessness.

The actors – several of whom are British – give persuasive approximations of slurry rural accents. Unfortunately, this has the effect of making some of the dialogue hard to understand. And the ending, proddingly symbolic, is drawn out too long, and feels anti-climactic. Still, this is a good little indie, and cable TV is a good home for it.

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