Wednesday, July 9, 2008

Riding Shotgun: The Passenger

Antonioni's first english language film, Blow-Up, was for the most part successful, but was overall trying too hard to be artistic. This film, about an identity switch, works in many ways while not even really trying to be artsy. The film's subject is David Locke (Jack Nicholson), a journalist who is renowned but depressed. "I prefer men to landscapes" Locke admits, revealing his personality, but also setting an ironic tone. How? This movie really is more about the blending in to the surroundings then the man itself. Anyways, on assignment in Africa, Locke finds a man dead in his hotel room, and, because he feels like it, decides to assume the man's identity. With a switch of a passport photo, he is David Robinson, and David Locke is pronounced dead. At this point, the newly appointed Robinson finds out his occupation: gun running. Also, he finds the TV producer who produced his journalist interviews (Ian Hendry) on his tail for a talk about Locke. Also involved, Nicholson's character's wife, Rachel Locke (Jenny Runacre), who is after him on personal accounts. So, Locke/Robinson is being pursued by the producer when he meets a young woman (Maria Schneider, famously of Last Tango in Paris) who he asks to get his bags from his hotel in order to avoid the TV guy. So these two team up on the run as Locke/Robinson makes his travels in and around Barcelona, Munich, and London. In the end, everyone is against Locke/Robinson (pretty obvious) and he suffers the real Robinson's fate: a heart attack. Anyways, this movie for the most part is deceptive, as at the beginning it leads you to believe it is a desert-set story, then switches into high gear, and converts into a Euro drama/thriller. All the while, it is intertwined between Locke's interviews of foreign presidents, witch doctors, and execution footage. But it is the settings that move the movie along. Nicholson is great in a well-done performance that ranks up with Five Easy Pieces, One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest (which was released simultaneously), and Chinatown. Schneider provides good support, as a predictable but memorable girl on the edge. I can't say the same for Hendry and Runacre, though, who turn in run-of-the-mill performances. One other thing: the movie is finished off with a penultimate take that is very long, including a dolly from the inside of Locke's hotel room into the outdoors, courtesy of a professional gate parting that proves amazing. Bottom line: Antonioni proves he can hold an entire movie together, adding this time not useless scenes (remember the Yardbird's scene in Blow-Up?), but polished landscapes, to supplement a great plot. A-

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