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Friday, June 3, 2011

PASSION PLAY -- DVD review by porfle

Before I watched it, PASSION PLAY (2010) looked like it was going to be some kind of mushy romantic flick incongruously pairing human roadblock Mickey Rourke with bland Megan Fox, along with the "This man...has no dick" guy from GHOSTBUSTERS, Bill Murray.  I couldn't imagine it being very good, and I certainly didn't expect it to be a gritty street version of SPLASH, with an ending that (to me, anyway) recalled elements of both BRAZIL and Ambrose Bierce.  More surprisingly, I actually liked it.  A lot.

Taking a stroll through the film's IMDb forum, I see that it's one of those titles that people seem to enjoy bashing with particular relish.  Without having read any of their comments, the low rating indicates that I'm in the minority, at least among IMDb users, in my positive response to PASSION PLAY.  So you might want to take this into consideration.

Anyway, the story concerns washed-up jazz trumpeter Nat Poole (Rourke), who is being taken out into the New Mexico desert to be whacked because of his feud with crime kingpin "Happy" Shannon (Murray).  Fortuitously, Nat escapes death and wanders through the desert until he happens upon a tiny carnival in the middle of nowhere.  Searching for a phone, he enters a freak show tent and encounters an angelic vision--Lily, the winged woman (Fox).

They hit it off, and soon Nat rescues Lily from cruel carnival owner Sam (Rhys Ifans) with the intention of trading her to Shannon for his life.  The deal goes down (despite a potentially lethal hitch or two), but in the meantime Nat has fallen in love with the innocent, trusting Lily and hates himself for betraying her.  So, against all odds, he fights to get her back. 

Mitch Glazer's confident directing debut is a contemplative and at times lyrical tale that strikes just the right balance between fantasy and realism, never getting as cutesy or mawkish as it easily could have.  Aside from a few fanciful bits, such as Lily spreading her wings and levitating "Flying Nun"-style in the face of a stiff wind, the film's novelty factor doesn't overwhelm the story--in fact, we almost begin to take her otherworldliness in stride after awhile. 

Much of the story is told visually, with Nat and Lily's touchingly emotional interludes jarringly counterpointed by some pretty harsh images.  Rourke's boozy, hang-dog ordinariness keeps things grounded--like Marv in SIN CITY, his character here is a big lug whose heart becomes a millstone when stricken by love.  Murray downplays the ruthless crime boss role with an offhand subtlety and dry wit that are tuned just right.  In a lesser role, Kelly Lynch is fine as a work-a-day stripper whose loyalty to Nat proves invaluable.

Glazer's camera seems to love Megan Fox, whose character is either surrounded by a beatific glow or, after being caged and put on display by Shannon, bathed in the sumptuous pathos of a Renaissance martyr.  I couldn't help thinking of SPLASH when Nat resolves to steal her back and finds her in a glass box before an audience of jaded socialites, resigned to hopeless despair.

Their reunion leads to a similar dash to freedom and leap of faith, and it's here that the film itself makes it broadest leap into fantasy.  While this may be jarring at first--and the SPFX at this point demand particular suspension of disbelief--the story's resolution is a heady mix of emotions that I found deeply moving. 

The DVD from Image Entertainment is in 2.40:1 widescreen with Dolby Digital 5.1 sound.  Subtitles are in English and Spanish.  A trailer is the sole extra.

PASSION PLAY is the kind of movie that you can either go along with or regard with giggly derision.  (Rourke himself has reportedly trashed it in the press.)  I found myself going along with this gritty fairytale pretty much every step of the way, greeting the soaring fadeout with that familiar old wistful, misty-eyed sigh that comes when a movie has moved me in just that way.

Buy it at


Tom Crull said...

The ending brought it all back to a harsh,but beautiful, reality. Did you miss the final scene in the desert? It was a perfect and believable finally.

porfle said...

No, I didn't miss it, but I didn't think it was a downer.