Wednesday, 11 May 2011

The Passenger (1975)

Director Michelangelo Antonioni made a challenging film. With its sparse dialogue and pared down action there’s nothing spoon fed to you here.

Disillusioned TV journalist, David Locke (Jack Nicholson) assumes the identity of a dead man in North Africa. As he travels back to, and through, Europe it transpires that the dead man was a gun runner. This also proves to be something of a pay cheque.

For such lurid subject matter it is often a bit dull. And while there are glimmers of genius in the direction some of it is downright clunky. While I understand the meaning (i.e. man’s desire to escape from himself) I don’t understand the behaviour. For example, why in Christ’s name does Locke carry on with his scam when he realises he’s posing as an arms dealer. The associates of this type are likely to be armed. They have the means to kill you very easily. The first whiff of that and I’d have pulled the ripcord. But hey, dramatic cinema would be so much duller were it populated by cowards like me.

This is the recently-departed Maria Schneider’s “other” film, in that it’s really the only other film of note in her career. (The other one being Last Tango in Paris.) She is completely beguiling in the role and shows maturity way beyond her years. (She was only twenty-two.) It’s a tragedy she was such a troubled soul and a shame for us that we never saw her fulfil her potential.

By no means least, fans of Nicholson will get a kick out of seeing him arguably at his peak. If you’ll allow me to turn into a drooling fan for a moment, it’s an impressive package. The wolfish grin is backed up by the flat stomach he used to have and he rocks an understated (but kickass-all-the-same) wardrobe. The Passenger is, by the way, a delectable seventies time capsule. 

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