Directed by Rebecca Hall
Stars- Tessa Thompson, Ruth Negga, André Holland and Alexander Skarsgård
Passing may have some of the strongest dialogue in a movie this year. It’s black and white cinematography being more than just there for looks, rather playing it’s own part in the messaging for Netflixes latest drama. Its as if the greys are highlighted within the black and white imagery to show that not everything is as seen or as black and white as they may first appear.
In 1920’s New York City, a black woman finds her world upended as her life becomes intertwined with a former childhood friend who is passing as white
Rebecca Halls first feature length directorial debut has plenty to be praised for. The way she captures the 1920s in the technical aspects is near perfect. The costume designs, the score, and the way we see the buildings all give life to the world that she’s building, and are posed in such an accurate way that one could truly believe that this story is something that could’ve happened in the time period. Being able to successfully craft the world around our characters, and letting us the audience hear the noises around them- is a gateway into the film, and a method to gain connection to our characters.
The score and sound editing doesn‘t just hit as if only to be used for the world building purpose and that’s it. Rather it’s used to enhance our sensation as we build into uncomfortable silent moments between our characters as they analyze one another’s lives and decisions that they made to get where they are. That tension and uncomfortable, never ceding, but rather it grows as a silent pit in our stomachs- as we worry about the risks that our leads put themselves through to “pass” and live like every human should be allowed to live, and as their obsessions with each other’s lives gets darker and darker.
The performances are brilliant, Tessa Thompson is such a great actress- and you can feel even the smallest most subtle of emotions are broadcast on her face in such an effective way. You can see the wheels processing as her character, Irene, questions the morality of her friend “passing” all these years, if she should’ve done it herself more often, and growing envious as Clare starts entering all her circles. While Ruth Negga as Clare is one of the strongest performances of the year, as Negga steals every scene she appears in no matter how much dialogue or how much the camera is focused on her for them. Her characters interest in finally being herself after ”passing“ all these years teeters on curiosity, eagerness, and mostly a sense of sadness. Of lost opportunity to be with people that she thinks like, her peers, and not those that she has associated with all of these past years of her life- who would hate her if they found out the truth.
The story is mostly strong, especially when we focus on the two women feeling one another and their lives out. Comparing their situations internally, judging one another, and envying each other and the lives that they’ve gotten to live. A few times the narrative shifts to other topics, none of which are as interesting as our two actresses, and none of which are fleshed out as much to be interesting. The ending sequence alone makes up for that as it ties powerfully back into the segment of the film that made it as interesting as it was when we first met Irene and Clare.