Review: Passing

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PASSING (2021)

Rebecca Hall’s directorial debut is incredibly impressive, rich with intricately delivered performances in a striking feat of storytelling that doesn’t always maintain its pacing, but never waivers in its moving tone.

In Passing, when a Black woman (Tessa Thompson) runs into a childhood friend (Ruth Negga) who is passing as white, their lives become increasingly intertwined as their realities clash. If the premise alone is evocative and intriguing, the film does not disappoint. Thompson and Negga are stunningly effective in their roles, embracing a script less verbose than most and instead allowing nonverbal, emotive acting to tell the story. Thompson in particular taps into the authenticity last seen in 2020’s Sylvie’s Love and steals the show. Most impressive is what is happening behind the camera with Hall crafting a film in Passing that explores 1920s racial tensions with unique delicacy and intent. 

Though conflict exists in the film, it is mostly just under the surface; viewers who like everything spelled out for them may find Passing to be an empty vessel without delivery. Instead, Hall’s film drops morsels to be considered in a story that has not been told on screen before. The approach does slow the progression of the film at times, though, particularly in the third act. Additionally, Alexander Skarsgård is drastically, while understandably, underutilized.Thompson and Negga distract from any deficiencies, however, with their hypnotizing, engrossing presences on screen. This is a spectacular feature film debut.

Passing is now streaming on Netflix.

Rating: 4/5

Photo from Netflix

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