The last in a trio of English-language films Antonioni made for MGM, the dazzling The Passenger has been kept out of cinematic distribution for the past two decades owing to copyright disputes. Reissued here in a newly restored version, it showcases one of Jack Nicholson's finest ever screen performances. He plays the burnt-out reporter Locke, who exchanges identities in Chad with a dead acquaintance named Robertson, himself a gun-runner for an African revolutionary group.
"Wouldn't it be better if we could throw it all away?" muses Robertson in a tape recording made before his fatal heart attack, sentiments which chime with Locke's desire to free himself of his current obligations and responsibilities. The Passenger proceeds to explore the impossibility of evading our own personal and national histories, and of truly knowing ourselves and our loved ones. It also suggests how chance - here the discovery of a corpse in a next-door hotel room - shapes our futures.
As Locke is pursued across Europe by the authorities and by business associates, Antonioni draws on certain thriller conventions: there are car chases, assassinations, and a female romantic interest in the form of Maria Schneider's resourceful unnamed student. Thanks to Luciano Tovoli's magnificent cinematography of the African desert and the arid Spanish countryside, we gain a potent sense of Locke's internal emptiness. And the film climaxes with a stunning seven-minute single take, beginning from behind the window-bars of another hotel room, which ties together the story's multiple strands whilst preserving the protagonist's fundamental mysteriousness.