Published Dec 01, 2005This film was largely ignored when it opened here in 1975 (and was subsequently forgotten in the intervening years), but Michelangelo Antonioni's alleged "last great film" has finally returned in its complete form.
Jack Nicholson stars as a news reporter who finds himself stranded in the African desert; trapped at a fleapit hotel, he discovers the body of a man who resembles him and decides to appropriate his identity. Matters get complicated when he discovers that the man he's become was an illegal arms dealer helping out a group of radical rebels, meaning he enlists the help of an architecture student (Maria Schneider) to go on the lam.
To say that this won't convert the director's detractors is putting it mildly not only does it move at his usual degree-zero pacing, it lacks the conceptual curlicues that made his films from the '60s so fascinating. Still, after 90-percent of American movies (then and now), The Passenger is a refreshing change of pace: it's a film that doesn't want to coerce you into thinking something, but merely consider what it has to say. And with his usual alienated protagonist and several pithy comments on the limitations of the news media, what it has to say is plenty interesting.
There are, however, the usual Antonioni dead spots and moments of pomposity, meaning that there are a few times when it's a chore to watch. But coming out I felt less assaulted than I normally do, with a head bursting with ideas.
It's not perfect, but it doggedly goes about its business of proving its points, and the penultimate shot is a brilliant piece of camera choreography that's worth waiting for. (Mongrel Media)