Dir: Rodrigo Garcia. US. 2008. 93 mins.
A handful of eerily-staged scenes and a surfeit of passably evocative production design can't save the otherwise muddled Passengers, in which Anne Hathaway stars as a grief counsellor assigned to help survivors of a fiery plane clash. In trying to tick a wide variety of genre boxes, the movie ends up servicing none that credibly.
Opening at only 125 theatres domestically, Passengers grossed a meagre $185,000, or less than $1,500 per screen, this past weekend. While it seems a curious release strategy given the ascendant profile of Hathaway, and particularly the awards buzz surrounding Rachel Getting Married, the mixed tones on display here would not seem to be a recipe for significant commercial penetration. Having already grossed $500,000 in Spain, the movie will mostly live on as a moody arthouse curio hitched to Hathaway's rising star.
Assigned by her boss (Braugher) to help walk a quintet of airplane crash survivors through their shock and grief, psychologist Claire Summers (Hathaway) encounters particular difficulties with one of them, Eric (Wilson). While others display behaviour more consistent with massive trauma, Eric is bouncy and charged by a newfound energy. He flirts with Claire, and asks her out on dates, which strikes her as odd.
As her other clients begin to disappear, though, Claire finds herself swimming in paranoia, suspecting a strange airline employee (Morse) of having a hand in their disappearance, possibly to cover up the real reasons for the crash.
Narratively, Passengers marks a departure from the past films of Colombian-born director Rodrigo Garcia (Nine Lives), whose recent small screen work on HBO's In Treatment showcased a level of psychological engagement not on display here.
Passengers ' mystery never takes hold, mainly because Ronnie Christensen's script is a thinly-sketched mood-piece of appropriated motifs and characterisations. Almost a decade on, the huge success of M. Night Shyamalan's The Sixth Sense is still spawning mystery-thrillers that seem chiefly backwards-plotted, with gimmicky point-of-view pivots that are meant to draw appreciative audience reactions out of a re-framing of the narrative.
Given the loose, unrealistically pitched nature of some of the characters in Passengers, though, it's quickly apparent that the movie isn't a straight dramatic telling, and only a small handful of scenarios seem plausible. Rodrigo, accordingly, is left to try to imprint and impress a unifying visual strategy on this forestalled revelation, with only fitful success.
At ease projecting both intelligence and warmth, Hathaway certainly acquits herself of any embarrassment. Wilson likewise does a solid job, in a role showcasing more overt charm and personality than other of his bland, leading man roles.
William B. Davis