Passing movie poster
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Passing
Passing movie poster

Passing Movie Review

There’s an alternate version of the Rebecca Hall drama Passing is an alternative world where a deranged Black woman passes as a white woman to seduce another woman’s husband to tragic, disturbing effect a la Fatal Attraction. It’s thrilling, dark, and maniacal. That’s not the Passing in our world however. Well acted but consistently subtle to the edge of dull, our Passing speaks to a compelling topic in an uncompelling way.

Hall’s directorial debut, the movie nonetheless indicates behind-the-camera talent that will hopefully manifest itself in more profound ways in future projects. There’s something beautiful to the black-and-white canvas she paints, even if the decision to go grayscale also contributes to the ultimate sensation of flatness the story provokes. And Hall elicits strong, quietly passionate performances from her cast, an important accomplishment given that the film operates in the realm of subtle gestures and facial nuances to convey much of the story’s emotion.

To that end, Tessa Thompson is fabulous, as is André Holland, who plays her husband. Credit must also go to Ruth Negga, though admittedly she’s an actress who for whatever reason has yet to connect with me (she also starred in another racially themed film named Loving, one I bring up because, like Passing, I found to be desperately boring at times). 

If this review is any indication, I struggle to compliment Passing fully and without restraint. There are plenty of respectable achievements to be found here, but its whole is less than its parts. At a brief 98 minutes, it feels twice as long, its machinations slow and unnecessarily tedious. Hall seems more interested in the subject matter than the story itself; more compelled by the opportunity to direct than to engage her audience. As mentioned earlier, the decision to go colorless sucks the potential vibrancy from the project, as if the black-and-white style literally constrains the story, the actors, and the film’s limits. It’s also a bit of a cheat, given the subject matter at hand. 

It took me two attempts to get through the entirety of Passing, and while I appreciated it more on a second viewing, it’s ultimately a bland effort held together by strong performances. Best to pass on Passing.

Review by Erik Samdahl unless otherwise indicated.

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