Frantic (1988)
Frantic (1988)

Genre: Psychological Thriller and Mystery Running Time: 2 hrs.

Release Date: February 26th, 1988 MPAA Rating: R

Director: Roman Polanski Actors: Harrison Ford, Emmanuelle Seigner, Betty Buckley, Gerard Klein, David Huddleston, Alexandra Stewart, Dominique Pinon

 


 

I

n a cab on their way to Paris’ Le Grand Hotel, Dr. Richard Walker (Harrison Ford) and his wife Sondra (Betty Buckley) encounter a flat tire, blocked traffic with impatient drivers, and a bit of a language barrier, as he doesn’t speak French (though she does, at least a little). Once they arrive, quite early in the morning, they have a limited amount of time before a scheduled luncheon at the Eiffel tower with the chairman of a convention, but Richard is reluctant to go, instead wishing to relax a bit. As they begin unpacking, they also realize that Sondra has the wrong suitcase. “You did this on purpose, ’cause you want me to go shopping in Paris.”

When Richard hops in the shower for a matter of seconds, Sondra takes a phone call, prompting her to leave spontaneously without so much as a note, nor proper notification to her husband, who doesn’t even realize she’s left. As he shaves, receives room service, and climbs into bed, he doesn’t think much of her absence. Yet when he falls asleep for a spell, then awakes, and she hasn’t returned, he works his way down to the lobby to investigate – becoming only slightly concerned at first.

This setup, involving a sudden disappearance in a foreign environment (one in which translations are not provided for the audience, surely as an attempt to make them feel equally as isolated and uninformed), is thoroughly Hitchcockian. Out of his element and with limited resources and zero connections, the somewhat puzzling exodus grows steadily more nerve-wracking, until it’s a full-fledged police matter. And it certainly doesn’t help that no one really believes him; there are even suggestions that she ran away with a secret lover and may not want to be found. “They could’ve just been having a good time.”

Various clues accrue, leading Richard to suspect a kidnapping, but there’s simply too little evidence to convince the authorities – or U.S. Embassy employees, who don’t have the jurisdiction to force something to happen. In the manner of these sorts of theatrical mysteries, it’s up to Richard to do some sleuthing himself, getting drawn deeper into a world of unsettling locales and daunting denizens. And, perhaps unlike in real life, this is an absorbing, frightful type of mystery, in which the answers are kept from viewers for as long as possible, keeping them on the edges of their seats – despite the fact that the pacing is actually rather unhurried and not nearly as frantic as the title would imply.

Thanks to writing and direction by Roman Polanski (alongside former writing collaborator Gerard Brach of “Tess” and “The Tenant”), and a curiously scattered score by Ennio Morricone, a certain dread is persistent; Ford does an exceptional job maintaining the right amount of agitation – and therefore believability – navigating an ever stranger series of neo-noir events (something of a precursor to David Fincher’s “The Game,” which utilizes a comparable collection of reality-testing interactions). A few contrivances crop up (more than once, Richard runs into work associates, as if Paris is incredibly small), but the progression of events and the structuring of the plot, steadily escalating toward a volatile climax, are sharply handled. With the introduction of an unwilling and unwitting assistant (Emmanuelle Seigner as Michelle), comic relief arises as well (including a moment of near-slapstick, surely intended to be harrowing), additionally generating an entertaining blend of irrational youth and contrastingly vulnerable sensibleness – though her involvement also spurs a series of decisions and complications that are entirely the stuff of movies. Nevertheless, it has a surprisingly satisfying conclusion.

– Mike Massie

  • 7/10