There’s one fantastic reason to watch The Passenger and that is Liza Weil aka Paris Geller from Gilmore Girls. If you’re a fan of Shondaland, then you’ve had plenty of opportunities to see her, but if, like me, you detest those shows, this is a rare occasion to see her on screen and she was, just as she was in Gilmore Girls, amazing. Unrelated, but does anyone else like to imagine that somehow Paris Geller is related to Monica and Ross Geller? I think that would create an interesting universe. However, we’re here to discuss The Passenger and not my wild fan theories.
The Passenger is a mediocre thriller that provides some entertainment value, but it’s definitely nothing special. Normally, I would leave this until the end of my review, but I might as well state it up front. If you come across the film on a streaming service and are a fan of thrillers, you should 100% check it out. If you are prompted to pay more than $5.99 to watch the film, you should probably pass. The reason I wanted to put this out there up front is because I want to talk specifically about where I saw value in this film and where it was desperately lacking.
The film is about as typical as you can get from a plot standpoint. If I were to sum the film up in three words, it would be ‘revenge via surrogate’ or ‘horrible murder logic.’ When I pay for a film, especially when I pay $6.99 or more, I’m paying for the story or a specific cast member. I’ll always spend money to watch The Rock in a cheesy action movie and I’ll always pay for a laugh out loud funny comedy. I need escapism or entertainment value in order to pay. Where I find myself less likely to pay is complex character development. While I enjoy these films, I enjoy them in a different way and I have difficulty paying for that type of character study because I just don’t get my money’s worth. Those are the films where I’ll wait for a $0.99 rental or a $4.99 iTunes special.
This is what we find ourselves getting with The Passenger. Randy (Johnny Berchtold) and Benson (Kyle Gallner) are very interesting characters and both actors play them incredibly well. I actually really enjoyed watching them clash and balance against each other. Sadly, that amazing character development is undermined by a weak story. So, what is The Passenger about? Randy and Benson work together at a burger joint. Randy is shy, introverted, and a real pushover. Benson is stereotypical redneck trash. The film pops off when another co-worker bullies Randy, who just takes it and Benson decides to intervene. This is where I start to have issues with the plot. There’s a lot going on with Benson and none of it is ever truly explained. It would appear that Benson woke up and chose violence, but we have no indication of why. We get glimpses of a potentially crappy home life and possible abuse at school, but we never get any true confirmation… just Benson’s actions and whose to say if those are the actions of someone who has been wronged or someone who is batshit crazy.
At the same time, Randy goes along with Benson’s actions. At times, it appears it is against his will, but sometimes it feels like he’s a lost puppy just happy to have someone to follow. As Benson spends the day rampaging, Randy has plenty of opportunities to get away from this madman or turn the tables on him, but he choses not to… he choses, in my eyes, to be an accomplice, yet he never pays for his transgressions. This is why the story falls apart for me and why I struggle. Benson and Randy are both interesting characters with a lot of potential and are brilliantly portrayed by the actors and expertly guided by the director. They were, however, let down by bad writing. We are left to guess at every corner about their intentions. While I dislike when films shove every detail down my throat because they expect a lack of intelligence in the audience, I also dislike when a film leaves things too open to interpretation without any real semblance of a plan.
Watching as Benson goes around righting the wrongs Randy has experienced, it’s impossible to know if Benson is a wounded dog who has been kicked too many times, a troubled young man who simply wants to help someone else from become the life long loser that he clearly is, or a psychopath looking to have a little fun. At the same time, you have to wonder if Randy is neurodivergent, coddled at home, a shy kid, or simply a coward. While there are attempts to provide insight into their mindsets, there’s never any clarification around the motivations that drive the two men. Randy does get a bit more of a clear explanation, but the explanation does not feel like it sufficiently explains his behaviours.
I wanted to like this movie because of the casting, and I loved the way that the characters were portrayed. The film flows well and does enough to keep you interested from end to end, but, ultimately, the writing on this one falls apart and leaves us wanting more depth of story. That being said, there are worse films out there and you can find entertainment value in the film… but this is definitely not a film worthy of breaking the bank to see it as soon as possible.
The Passenger was released on digital and on demand on August 4, and will be coming to MGM+ later this year.
Movie title: The Passenger
Movie description: Randy (Johnny Berchtold) is perfectly content fading into the background. But when his coworker Benson (Kyle Gallner) goes on a sudden and violent rampage leaving a trail of destruction in his wake, Randy is forced to face his fears and confront his troubled past to survive.
Date published: 2023-08-04
Director(s): Carter Smith
Actor(s): Kyle Gallner, Johnny Berchtold, Liza Weil
White Knuckle Flick