In Michelangelo Antonioni's 1975 film "The Passenger," which is being rereleased in the version the director liked best, a lithe, just-balding Jack Nicholson plays David Locke, a television journalist covering a vaguely drawn civil conflict in an unnamed African country. But his character is also a passenger -- a passive, disaffected accomplice in his own life.
Like most of Antonioni's work, "The Passenger" is about the psyche of one man and an erotically charged, if verbally challenged, relationship with a beautiful woman. The latter is portrayed here by Maria Schneider (fresh from "Last Tango in Paris"), whom Antonioni revealingly calls "the Girl." That says it all about a film that, while pictorially stunning, looks today like a museum piece of quintessentially male heroic filmmaking.
In terms of pure technical prowess, Antonioni, now in his nineties, was at his best with "The Passenger," which contains textbook examples of the director's deliberate, pendular camera moves, his dramatic backdrops, his love of stark architecture and his gnomic approach to storytelling. Locke embarks on an aimless quest to find himself -- or lose himself, as suggested by the film's most famous shot: a masterly, seven-minute final take that travels from a hotel room to a town square and back, during which a life is irrevocably changed.
Antonioni presents it all with cool, aestheticized detachment, and ultimately, there's something heartless about his filmmaking, an arrogance that can produce a bravura final sequence but that can also offhandedly include actual footage of an African prisoner being killed by a firing squad. That final seven-minute shot may be the most famous in "The Passenger," but the execution is the most despicable.
-- Ann Hornaday