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Living in exile in Paris after eluding a controversial charge of statutory rape in America, director Roman Polanski seemed professionally adrift during the 1980s, making only one film (the ill-fatedPirates) between 1979 and 1988. Then Polanski found inspiration--and a major star in Harrison Ford--to makeFrantic, a thriller that played directly into Polanski's gift for creating an atmosphere of mystery, dread, escalating suspense, and uncertain fate. Set in Paris (Polanski couldn't go to Hollywood, so Hollywood came to him), the story begins when an American heart surgeon (Ford) arrives in the City of Lights with his wife (Betty Buckley) for a medical convention. They check into a posh hotel, and in a brilliantly directed scene, Ford takes a shower and emerges to find that his wife has vanished. This mysterious disappearance--and a confusion between two identical pieces of luggage--leads Ford into the Paris underground and a plot that grows increasingly dangerous as he approaches the truth of his wife's disappearance. The plot gets too complicated, and the pace drops off in the cluttered second half, but in Polanski's capable hands the film is blessed with moments of heightened suspense in the tradition of classic thrillers.--Jeff Shannon
5 star film, 1 star DVD This is one of Harrison Ford's underappreciated gems, made in that brief period in the 1980's when he had a two movie fling with roles beyond his usual fare, the other being the fantastic "The Mosquito Coast." Sadly, both movies bombed, and Ford never pushed himself again.
Roman Polanski crafts a creepily realistic thriller. The first half is near flawless, as Ford investigates the mysterious disappearance of his wife. Things do start to unravel a bit as we find out just what happened to her, the mysterious becoming just mundane Hollywood fare. Still, Polanski's direction is so assured that I'm willing to forgive this fault. His own tragic personal loss clearly informs this dark, unceasingly serious film.
Although filmed in Paris, Polanski makes a fascniating choice. This is not the "City of Lights" we're used to. Instead, Polanski shows the city at its absolute worst, delighting in its ugliness. The film opens and closes with lengthy shots of a highway passing through dreary suburbs. Trash trucks are forever collecting garbage and obscuring the Eiffel Tower. We constantly see bathrooms, alleys, concrete parking structures, rooms lit by banks of fluorescent lights, rundown apartments, the list goes on. This is not to say the film is ugly, it's beautifully shot, but not to look like a series of postcard images, this is a working, living organism of a city.
There is an almost documentary feel to this film that will alienate many viewers. This is arthouse style filmmaking. There are no easy jokes and little snappy dialogue. Multiplex moviegoers, used to instant, constant gratification will be disappointed. But those who like a little more depth and intelligence to their thrillers will be mesmerized.
Sadly, the American DVD is a disaster. It was one of the very first DVDs ever released and shows its age. In fact, the picture quality was notably worse than my old VHS. Even more annoyingly, it starts out in widescreen for the credits, teasing you, then zooms in to pan-and-scan for the feature, before zooming out again to widescreen for the closing credits. Infuriating. Luckily, the British DVD, available at amazon.co.uk, has an anamorphic widescreen transfer. It's not the greatest picture, but until Warner does right by this film in the US, it gets the job done. If you can play Region 2 discs, that's the one to get.
Frantic?!? Frantic? Hardly! This poorly-directed and produced film really rides on the back of Harrison Ford and a few, albeit short, scenes of fast action, none of which really amount to creating much suspense. The character of Sondra is poorly depicted by Betty Buckley, an actress whose small part should have served the role of building sympathy for her plight. Instead her brief moments at the beginning of the film tend to disengage the audience. There is never any great compassion developed for her as Buckley unwittingly portrays her character as snobbish, difficult, and unloveable to some degree. In terms of directing, Polanski misses the mark as there is rarely any sense of urgency or parallel understanding transferred over to the audience; the movie is disjointed at times. It would be easy to become as ambivalent about the whole thing as the French police. I would recommend a strong pot of coffee for this one.Frantic needs better Great movie, but what's with the pan and scan dvd? Polanski is a great director and his movie needs a better treatment on dvd. How about widescreen please? This is a great film and it would be nice to see all of the image as the director intended. Thanks in advance.