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Dustin Putman

Obsession  (1976)
3 Stars
Directed by Brian De Palma.
Cast: Cliff Robertson, Geneviève Bujold, John Lithgow, Wanda Blackman, Stocker Fontelieu, Stanley J. Reyes, Nick Kreiger, Don Hood, Andrea Esterhazy.
2019 – 98 minutes
Rated: Rated PG (for violence and thematic elements).
Reviewed by Dustin Putman for, January 4, 2019.
Quixotic and languorous, twisted and captivating, "Obsession" often strikes as what, in essence, it is: an affectionate tribute to Alfred Hitchcock's 1958 classic of lost loves and doppelgängers, "Vertigo." For Brian De Palma, the masterful filmmaker whose love of ratcheting Hitchcockian levels of suspense would continue with 1980's "Dressed to Kill," 1981's "Blow Out," and 1992's "Raising Cain" (among many others), such comparisons are not unwarranted. "Obsession" is a slightly different beast; there are thriller aspects to it, but the bulk of the running time is less focused on quickening one's pulse than bewitching audiences and keeping them guessing as an unhurried romantic mystery plays out.

In 1959 New Orleans, the wedding anniversary of real estate developer Michael Courtland (Cliff Robertson) and wife Elizabeth (Geneviève Bujold) is interrupted when she and their young daughter Amy (Wanda Blackman) are kidnapped for ransom. When Michael is pulled into a double-crossing scheme by the police, the plan backfires and his family lose their lives. Sixteen years later, while on a business trip in Florence, Italy, Michael visits the church where he met his late wife decades ago and shares a chance meeting with a woman, Sandra (also Bujold), who is an uncanny double for Elizabeth.

"Obsession" is less flashy than De Palma's most memorable and stylish efforts, pleased to take an unhurried, observant approach to a narrative with a few perverse twists up its sleeves. This does not mean it isn't enrapturing, with Bernard Herrmann's sleek, operatic music score accompanying a screenplay by Paul Schrader that confidently blends a love story with a dark morality play of abduction and familial loss and longing. Cliff Robertson has the right leading-man look to fit his role of Michael Courtland, but too frequently underplays the emotional quandaries his character faces. Better is Geneviève Bujold, a beguiling, dramatically complex chameleon in the dual roles of Elizabeth and Sandra. "Obsession" isn't well-known among Brian De Palma's wide-ranging filmography, but it is ripe for discovery, innately worthwhile while playing to its own unusual, elegant, haunting tempo.
© 2019 by Dustin Putman
Dustin Putman

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