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Passengers (2008)
Director: Rodrigo Garcia

review by Mark West
SPOILER ALERT!
Opening with a plane crash - which is cleverly cut between title cards for the credits - we join Claire Summers (Anne Hathaway who, for this film, seems to have appropriated mannerisms and looks that make her strongly resemble Jason Biggs, from American Pie), a doctor who is filling her life with studying, rather than practising the medicine she knows so much about. She is assigned the task of counselling the survivors and, five minutes in, arrives at the make-shift medical set-up where several doctors and nurses ignore her queries about where the survivors are. And that sequence, in a nutshell, is the film - trust me, think about it and you can save yourself 85 minutes of your life that you'll never get back.

If you do persist, there are as many things to like as there are to dislike about the film. The cast is superb - in addition to Jason Biggs (damn, no, it's Anne Hathaway isn't it?), we have Patrick Wilson (as Eric, whose relationship with Claire develops into something very serious), David Morse as an airline official, Clea Duvall (with as much to do here as she does in Anamorph) as a fellow survivor and Dianne Wiest (who keeps popping up like a sprightly jack-in-the-box, her mousey features betraying the fact that inside she must be screaming "Hey! I won an Oscar you know!"), as a kindly neighbour - and the acting is never less than convincing, with David Morse perhaps delivering the strongest performance, as a haunted man living with a terrible burden.

The film has a bleak tone - both in terms of the characters and their lives - and the colour palette reflects this. It's very dour, giving everything a brisk, chilly feel that is echoed in the sets, locations and weather, even the music (a central piano motif that gets more grating as the film goes on), and sound effects.

The pacing really lets it down though, with scenes seeming to take forever to get anywhere - there's no sense of urgency to any of this, even if the characters are running or arguing or doing anything other than sitting. Anne 'Biggs' Hathaway also has an almost whispered delivery at times, which helps drag the pace further, until it becomes almost hypnotically slow. Now this doesn't necessarily need to be a problem, assuming you're involved with the characters, but there's no relief to this - the film never really picks up pace.

And now, to address the elephant in the room; if you're any kind of genre buff, it won't take you long to figure out what's happening - people know information that they shouldn't, especially Eric, but also Dianne ("I won an Oscar, you know!") Wiest; things that have no business being in the 'real world' are there (a long-dead-childhood-pet husky, the 'Cigarette Smoking Man' from The X-Files, an attentive couple), and an estranged sister and her family can't be contacted no matter what. Until, finally, the filmmakers tip their hand and have Eric try to kill himself by standing in front of a train - which misses him.

And that's my issue - if this was a thriller (which it builds as, working on the theory that there's an airline conspiracy and faulty planes have been knowingly used), it would work quite well. Add to that the romantic subplot, which is sparky and quite nicely done, it would work. But it's not a thriller and it's not a love story and, in the end, it's not even a horror story really because once you've clicked the twist - and the clues are less than subtle at times - you realise that it's all pretty pointless. I know that cinema is all an illusion but if you're going to confound your audience, then do it - don't drag them along for almost 90 minutes before a ta-dah! reveal of what 99 percent of them have already twigged. That doesn't sit well with my viewing pleasure and makes it harder to like the film.

When the twist is finally revealed, it done as if the viewer has never seen anything like it before and takes great delight in pointing out everything, slowly and methodically, which was just insulting. Then, to add insult to injury, the film really milks the human drama, going for maudlin and manipulative, as it points out the key players in each person's life and adds a coda of the estranged sister looking around Claire's empty apartment.

So this isn't a bad film - it's well made and the acting, look and general atmosphere are far superior to a lot of genre fare, but it's not a particularly good film either - it doesn't go anywhere and doesn't tell us a story that hasn't been frequently (and, unfortunately, often better) told. As such, it's difficult to know who would be a good audience for this - fans of the supernatural would guess the outcome quickly and plod to the end, thriller fans would relish getting their teeth into the mystery until the film becomes something that it definitely didn't start out as. With that in mind, I'll give it a decent score because of the quality but I have no idea who to recommend it to.

One quick note - we don't see cover art with the screeners, but looking this one up, the tag-line pretty much gives the game away before you've ever seen the film. Not very clever, is it?

My screener copy included several trailers, a commentary track (dry and involved) and two featurettes. The first, a 22-minute 'making of', is one of the most pretentious featurettes I've ever seen - nobody is willing to say they're making a film about ghosts, everybody is a genius in their field and the director is a wonderful, wonderful man. Now I'm sure he is - as I'm sure that everyone is very good at their job - but you don't need to keep telling me. It feels twice as long though - it's paced much like the film - and I found my attention wandering often.

The second featurette is 15 minutes long and deals with the special effects - again, this suffers terribly from being pretentious and far too long. It also explains everything as if it's the first time you, the viewer, have ever come across the use of green screen or CGI (one excited compositor explains that he is responsible for making the sky out of the plane window, then proceeds to show us how he does it and another talks glowingly of a wonderful CAD-like software program that works out how long the set needed to be and how much green screen they'd require). Now I love special effects and behind-the-scenes stuff but this is definitely one to miss. Though, having said that, it does contain one gem and if I handed out awards for things like this, the visual effects supervisor would win for his comment, a minute into the featurette, when he says "the story has a bit of a twist to it."

Passengers on DVD

Passengers poster



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