Starring: Tessa Thompson, Ruth Negga, André Holland
Director: Rebecca Hall
Running Time: 99 mins
Passing is an American film about a black woman living in 1920s New York who encounters a former schoolfriend, who is masquerading as a white woman on account of her lighter skin.
A film that has an awful lot to say, Passing is an impressive blend of visually striking filmmaking and resonant dramatic themes, juxtaposing a story of deception and prejudice with a setting full of style and grace.
On the surface, Passing is an achingly gorgeous film directed in real style by Rebecca Hall, while leads Tessa Thompson and Ruth Negga bring a mellow kind of class to the screen that we’re not all too used to seeing nowadays.
All of that works wonders in establishing a world in which all seems normal above the surface, but which harbours dark and devastating truths just beneath, as proves to be the case over the course of 99 minutes of slow-build tension and drama.
Despite its relatively snappy runtime, Passing isn’t a film that will keep you consistently hooked as it builds its story around a striking lie that really makes you question the nature of race in detail. It’s a fascinating central theme that works impressively alongside a depiction of prejudice in the past, all the while combining with allusions to modern society, but the film doesn’t quite have the pull throughout to keep you fully enthralled.
Its style is magnetic in the early stages, and despite a middle portion that lulls in comparison, the film comes good again towards its finish as it amps up the drama beyond what can at times be a rather heavy-going thinking exercise. Of course, a movie that makes you think is always good, but Passing is perhaps a little too heavy at times in its middle portion to keep you totally engaged as you ponder the central questions it poses. So, that’s why I’m giving it a 7.2 overall.