The Passenger – Review

Directed by Michelangelo Antonioni
Starring Jack Nicholson, Maria Schneider
123 minutes
Opens January 13, 2006

*** ½ stars out of five

The Passenger is a rare gem of a movie that was produced over 30 years ago, way back in 1975, just prior to Jack Nicholson’s rise to the top in Hollywood. Michelangelo Antonioni directed this film-noir of sorts, with plenty of suspense to sustain the interest level, while dreamy panoramic views create for an interesting travelogue. The film also features Maria Schneider (Last Tango in Paris, 1972), as “the girl”.

Oh the passenger
He rides and he rides
He looks through his window.What does he see?

What is seen on the surface isn’t necessarily reality. Journalist Locke (Nicholson) is on yet another assignment, this time tracking down rebels in the African desert. The morning after socializing with a fellow journeyman at his hotel, Locke awakes to find his hotel mate no longer breathing. One can assume this to be the result of heart failure given his statement from the previous night – “I have a bad heart and shouldn’t be drinking – want another?” Locke sees this as an opportunity to secure a new identity, and so the plot begins. Passports are mocked up and Locke leaves the hotel as “Robertson” while “Locke’s” body is left to be transported back home.

What Locke doesn’t realize as he assumes this new life, is that Robertson is actually a gunrunner for an underground operation. Leaving Africa, he heads off to keep the dead man’s appointments, hoping that his new life will be more interesting than his old one was. As his travels take him through various regions of Europe, he encounters “the girl” who eventually tags along for the adventure. She is trekking around at free will and welcomes the opportunity to experience the thrill and excitement of “Robertson’s” secretive life upon his confession, “I ran out on everything except a few bad habits”.

He sees the bright and hollow sky
He see the stars come out tonight
He sees the city’s ripped backsides
He sees the winding ocean drive

Locke’s wife soon realizes what’s happened and sets out on her own mission to track him down. He’s also now on the run from a team of assassins who want to kill the man selling guns to the rebels in their country. It’s all very surreal, yet real at the same time. “The girl” tells Locke, “People disappear everyday”, and Locke replies, “Every time they leave the room”. Leaving one’s life may seem that simple, but taking on a new one proves to be no easy task.

And everything was made for you and me
All of it was made for you and me
’cause it just belongs to you and me
So, let’s take a ride and see what’s mine.

It’s a slow moving movie that may not appeal to a newer MTV generation, yet it’s a classic in its own right. However, with retro-vogue so popular these days, there likely will be some curiosity appeal. The Passenger is being released across Canada by Mongrel Media with Nicholson owning full global rights to the movie.
A limited Toronto showing takes place at Jackman Hall (Art Gallery of Ontario, 317 Dundas Street West), from January 13 to 18 inclusive.

Check the Cinematheque website for show times and additional information –||Schedule||January&filmID=1486&presentMonth=1
** Lyrical excerpts are from “The Passenger”, a musical classic of the same title by famed Detroit musician Iggy Pop.