As much effort as apparently went into it, the film nonetheless feels like a pit stop for everyone involved.


Director: Rodrigo Garcia
Cast: Anne Hathaway, Patrick Wilson, Clea DuVall, David Morse, Dianne Wiest
Distributor: Sony
MPAA rating: R
Studio: Columbia Pictures
First date: 2008
US DVD Release Date: 2009-05-12

Hokey thrillers seem to be a rite of passage for the modern-day movie star; even the most popular and/or acclaimed actors seem to wind up hustling through glorified B-movies, and do so even after said popularity and/or acclaim has been firmly established. Tom Hanks (The Da Vinci Code), Halle Berry (Perfect Stranger), Ryan Gosling (Fracture), Nicole Kidman (The Invasion), Johnny Depp (The Ninth Gate), Jennifer Lopez (Enough), Hilary Swank (The Reaping), and Bruce Willis (take your pick), among others, have all been there, chasing, not catching, the kind of Hitchcockian timelessness that worked so well for Jimmy Stewart or Cary Grant.

So maybe it's to Anne Hathaway's credit that she gets Passengers out of the way now, and maybe it's to the film's credit that it's not quite as craven or cheap as the worst of its brethren. Hathaway plays Claire Summers, a young therapist trying to help a handful of plane crash survivors with differing accounts of their experience. Standing even further outside the pack is Eric (Patrick Wilson), a survivor with a peculiar sense of calm as well as an uncanny understanding of (and attraction to) Claire.

Claire's investigation of the crash proceeds without any boos or gotchas; the director, Rodrigo Garcia, usually specializes in quiet, thoughtful, ensemble dramas like Nine Lives and Things You Can Tell Just by Looking at Her, and it shows. His experience directing ensembles of believable female characters should be a breath of fresh air in a genre that often targets women by the most cynical means possible: sex crimes, imperiled children, and the occasional quasi-empowering escape-from-abuse scenario. Garcia has patience, to be sure, but his sense of suspense is off-key; Hathaway and Wilson look ill at ease with their investigative obligations, and the movie moves tentatively, with an over-sensitive score humming under too many scenes.

Rather than taking full advantage of his eye for characters, the screenplay lets Garcia's other job, as a director-for-hire of respectable television episodes, take control. Passengers simply doesn't have enough material to sustain itself as a feature; at one point, former cigarette-smoking man William B. Davis pops up for a wordless cameo, as if to emphasize how much better this would play as an X-File episode. Stretched to 90-minutes, the film is more bittersweet than spooky, and, come to think of it, more maudlin than bittersweet.

The DVD release, following a limited and unpromoted theatrical release in fall 2008, includes a variety of extras which fail to make the case for the viability of Passengers as a feature. There's a set of wisely cut deleted scenes; they would've only drawn the film out further. There's a mini-documentary on the special effects used in the plane crash sequences with emphasis on how they served the story, unintentionally underlining how thin that story actually is. And there's a pleasant, polite commentary with Garcia and Wilson, where the actor and director, talented fellows both, sound unduly engaged by this wisp of a mystery without properly exposing any hidden depths.

Hitchcock gets name-checked, naturally, but not in terms of directorial technique but in reference to Hathaway's "tight wrapped" quality as Claire. It's meant as a compliment, but describes her all too well: shot after her box-office breakthrough The Devil Wears Prada but before the revelation Rachel Getting Married, her performance here has the studied, perfunctory quality of her pre-Demme work. It's movie-star work from someone who may be a better actress than a star. As much effort as apparently went into it, Passengers nonetheless feels like a pit stop for everyone involved.







The 10 Best Experimental Albums of 2015

Music of all kinds are tending toward a consciously experimental direction. Maybe we’re finally getting through to them.


John Lewis, C.T. Vivian, and Their Fellow Freedom Riders Are Celebrated in 'Breach of Peace'

John Lewis and C.T. Vivian were titans of the Civil Rights struggle, but they are far from alone in fighting for change. Eric Etheridge's masterful then-and-now project, Breach of Peace, tells the stories of many of the Freedom Riders.


Unwed Sailor's Johnathon Ford Discusses Their New Album and 20 Years of Music

Johnathon Ford has overseen Unwed Sailor for more than 20 years. The veteran musician shows no sign of letting up with the latest opus, Look Alive.

Jedd Beaudoin

Jazz Trombonist Nick Finzer Creates a 'Cast of Characters'

Jazz trombonist Nick Finzer shines with his compositions on this mainstream jazz sextet release, Cast of Characters.


Datura4 Travel Blues-Rock Roads on 'West Coast Highway Cosmic'

Australian rockers Datura4 take inspiration from the never-ending coastal landscape of their home country to deliver a well-grounded album between blues, hard rock, and psychedelia.


Murder Is Most Factorial in 'Eighth Detective'

Mathematician Alex Pavesi's debut novel, The Eighth Detective, posits mathematical rules defining 'detective fiction'.


Eyedress Sets Emotions Against Shoegaze Backdrops on 'Let's Skip to the Wedding'

Eyedress' Let's Skip to the Wedding is a jaggedly dreamy assemblage of sounds that's both temporally compact and imaginatively expansive, all wrapped in vintage shoegaze ephemera.


Of Purges and Prescience: On David France's LGBTQ Documentary, 'Welcome to Chechnya'

The ongoing persecution of LGBTQ individuals in Chechnya, or anywhere in the world, should come as no surprise, or "amazement". It's a motif undergirding the history of civil society that certain people will always be identified for extermination.


Padma Lakshmi's 'Taste the Nation' Questions What, Exactly, Is American Food

Can food alone undo centuries of anti-immigrant policies that are ingrained in the fabric of the American nation? Padma Lakshmi's Taste the Nation certainly tries.


Performing Race in James Whale's 'Show Boat'

There's a song performed in James Whale's musical, Show Boat, wherein race is revealed as a set of variegated and contradictory performances, signals to others, a manner of being seen and a manner of remaining hidden, and it isn't "Old Man River".


The Greyboy Allstars Rise Up to Help America Come Together with 'Como De Allstars'

If America could come together as one nation under a groove, Karl Denson & the Greyboy Allstars would be leading candidates of musical unity with their funky new album, Como De Allstars.


The Beatles' 'Help!' Redefined How Personal Popular Music Could Be 55 Years Ago

Help! is the record on which the Beatles really started to investigate just how much they could get away with. The album was released 55 years ago this week, and it's the kick-off to our new "All Things Reconsidered" series.


Porridge Radio's Mercury Prize-Nominated 'Every Bad' Is a Wonderful Epistemological Nightmare

With Every Bad, Porridge Radio seduce us with the vulnerability and existential confusion of Dana Margolin's deathly beautiful lyricism interweaved with alluring pop melodies.


​​Beyoncé's 'Black Is King' Builds Identity From Afrofuturism

Beyoncé's Black Is King's reliance on Afrofuturism recuperates the film from Disney's clutches while reclaiming Black excellence.

Reading Pandemics

Colonial Pandemics and Indigenous Futurism in Louise Erdrich and Gerald Vizenor

From a non-Native perspective, COVID-19 may be experienced as an unexpected and unprecedented catastrophe. Yet from a Native perspective, this current catastrophe links to a longer history that is synonymous with European colonization.


John Fullbright Salutes Leon Russell with "If the Shoe Fits" (premiere + interview)

John Fullbright and other Tulsa musicians decamped to Leon Russell's defunct studio for a four-day session that's a tribute to Dwight Twilley, Hoyt Axton, the Gap Band and more. Hear Fullbright's take on Russell's "If The Shoe Fits".

Collapse Expand Reviews

Collapse Expand Features
PM Picks
Collapse Expand Pm Picks

© 1999-2020 All rights reserved.
PopMatters is wholly independent, women-owned and operated.