Frantic (USA/France, 1988)

franticdvd_zps1235cbedDirected by: Roman Polanski. I checked this one out for several reasons, most of them really trivial and stupid. I really like Harrison Ford, especially when he’s young and doing what looked to be (correctly, I found out) a mature, stylish, suspense thriller. I’m interested in the work of Polanski, so there’s that. There’s also the obscene fact that the stupid Barenaked Ladies song has forever been imprinted into my DNA from a decade of repeat viewings on late 90’s/early 00’s MuchMusic, and the line about this film title was always a mystery until this DVD passed through my hands, and I thought that if I finally saw the movie, I would be released from the purgatory of that stupid lyric in my head. Alas, no. As for the actual film itself, it made a good impression on me overall. I always admire interesting opening credits, and Polanski’s use of the upward scrolling “Star Wars credits” is really bold, but it legitimately really helps create a sense of urgency and unease right from the beginning. The movie has a lot of the little “markers” of stuff I find attractive, little bits of cultural brain candy and cinematic cues that really jump out to me. For starters, just having another film from Harrison Ford’s golden era—the 80’s to mid-90’s (basically anything up to Air Force One)—that I haven’t seen yet is an exciting thought. And as far as that goes, it’s a really interesting concept to just plunk Harrison Ford, the modern, masculine, assertive Hollywood hero, the John Wayne of the 80’s, into modern Paris (and especially the Paris of Roman Polanski, and especially the Paris of Roman Polanski in 1988). I love the simple fish-out-of-water story as a premise (and yes, my mind goes immediately to Crocodile Dundee). Like the other Polanski I’ve seen (The Ghost Writer), but not really like Chinatown, this one gives off a bit of that old Hitchcock vibe with its story that starts with a very manicured, bourgeois, carefree world, and plunges very suddenly and jarringly into a world of high stakes mystery and subterfuge, of not relying on the “authorities” to solve your problems. This is a world where an ordinary, even exaggeratedly shallow and superficial, protagonist is transformed into an amateur detective and overall “man of action” in a relatively short amount of time (Gary Cooper in Cloak and Dagger comes to mind). All of this stuff seems very Hitchcockian (I apologize for using that awful word) to me, and I think that’s why I like it. I also like how in this film, unlike in the other Polanski films I’ve seen, we can see a fairly recognizable and distinct visual thumb print on the part of the director—specifically, the strangely conspicuous blocking where Harrison is in the extreme foreground and the background is so sharply in focus that it’s either an extremely wide lens à la Welles, or (and I hope this is it) because Polanski separated the background and foreground of the same scene with a matte shot cut in order to yield this more dramatic, more deliriously unreal quality to the whole thing. I really like how that strange look to this film really helps us get inside the head of the protagonist as he dives deeper and gets more comfortable in this strange underworld of terrorists and diplomats and French drug-dealers and Arab human traffickers. Also, the co-lead with Polanski’s wife, Emmanuelle Seigneur, was a pretty great character, and together, Seigner and Polanski did a good job of flirting with the whole film noir femme fatale archetype without falling into that black hole of neo-noir doucheisme. Also, the Grace Jones on the soundtrack really hammered the nail of awesomeness into this film about 80’s vice and corruption. This film reads partly like French Connection, partly like North By Northwest, and partly like Brazil, but it’s in the late 80’s, and in Paris, and directed by Roman Polanski, with prime time Harrison Ford. This movie’s got a lot going for it.

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2 responses to “Frantic (USA/France, 1988)

  1. Pingback: List of Judgements, Anno Domini 2013 | Offhand Reviews·

  2. Pingback: Unknown (USA/UK/France/Germany/Japan/Canada, 2011) | Offhand Reviews·

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