THE HOLLYWOOD REPORTER
Seattle International Film Festival
By David Hunter
While not exactly setting the marquee on fire with star names, this unabashed romancer from director Dan Ireland — co-founder of the Seattle International Film Festival, where “Passionada” premiered June 16 as the closing-night event — goes down smoothly thanks to the trio of lead actors, whose enthusiasm and chemistry help make up for the somewhat routine filmmaking. Ireland, who cast Renee Zellweger in her breakout role (“The Whole Wide World”), hits pay dirt again with Sofia Milos (“The Sopranos”), giving the indie project legitimate enticements for moviegoers.
“Passionada” is set in the fishing community of New Bedford, Mass., with Portuguese-American widow Celia Amonte (Milos) and her nice-and-naughty daughter Vicky (Emmy Rossum) both coming under the spell — and vice versa for him — of luckless gambler Charlie Beck (Jason Isaacs). In the film, coming out after doing war flicks for Ridley Scott and John Woo and before his turns in the new Jackie Chan and Harry Potter movies, Isaacs is credible as a shifty-but-means-well bloke who is drawn to Celia’s beguiling persona.
Having lost her husband in an accident seven years earlier, beautiful Celia is not an easy catch to land, but Charlie finds a co-conspirator in dish-in-training Vicky, who wants to learn how to count cards and win at the local casino. They strike a deal, which includes him teaching her the skills that have gotten him in mucho trouble. In his defense, Vicky is irresistible, and Celia is one attractive lady, a singer at a nearby restaurant who radiates femininity despite her broken heart.
Charlie presents himself as a well-off businessman and persuades his yacht-owning friends to help impress Celia. Things are going swimmingly until the truth comes out, of course, and Charlie gets beaten up in a tacked-on confrontation with Russian gamblers, who also threaten Vicky.
Along with the three leads, with Isaacs underplaying effectively against such radiant scene-stealers as Milos and Rossum , there’s a trio of veterans capably filling out the principal cast: Theresa Russell and Seymour Cassel as Charlie’s best friends and Lupe Ontiveros as Celia’s mother-in-law.
Paul Bernard and James Scura