The Passenger

The re-release 30 years later of Michelangelo Antonioni’s dilatory near-thriller must be a tossed gauntlet to moviegoers. If more people really do prefer DVDs in a living room to films in a theater, and if attention spans really have receded irrevocably, this one will be playing to empty houses. We’ll see, or be damned. Bleaching away in the chalky glare of the African desert, Jack Nicholson is an investigative journalist whose life looks so meaningless that he impulsively trades identities with a suddenly deceased hotel neighbor. In exchange for his fled self he gains not renewal, but merely the grim itinerary of a stolen life (the dead man was a gunrunner), with the added nuisance of international subterfuge. Antonioni, you may have heard, has a gift for alienation. Actually, the movie is plenty inviting; all it truly (and justly) negates is sentimentality. The director’s refusal to console his protagonist reads as respect, in the same way that the story’s glacial pace reads as resolve—all beautifully epitomized in the eloquent penultimate shot. What fun, also, to get another long look at vintage Nicholson, slender, edgy, and still actually trying.