Thursday, 1 November 2007
Frantic (1988) - Roman Polanski
Roman Polanski's Hitchcock homage, Frantic, was a far better experience than i'd bargained on. Harrison Ford plays the American bureaucrat out of his depth in a very mono-linguistic Paris. His wife scarpers while he's cleaning his nether regions in the shower beginning the film's main plot line - the search for his wife. The film could just as well been called Frustrated because he runs into dead-ends wherever he turns. At first, it seemed the film was making fun of - or at least highlighting - the pitfalls of cultural/linguistic ignorance in a foreign land; it's ok while everything's fine but as soon as things go array things get very difficult very quickly. However, this taut first half with minimal action and maximum notching-up of palpable tension gives way in the second half first to a plot involving drug smuggling, then finally to international nuclear espionage and a showdown on the Seine.
Beyond the fisticuffs, a naked Ford receiving a roundhouse kick to the face, characters scrambling over rooftops and spies in car chases there's much more to the film's construction. Polanski and cinematographer, Sobocinski, achieve countless shots that are simply brilliant in their simplicity as much as the attention to detail. The frame is so often broken up with verticals (doorways, windows etc) into at least 2, if not 3, distinct sections of action. Polanski compounds this with an incredible use of recessive depth which leaves the extreme background out of focus but ever-present. The colour photography, set and costume design like so many movies of its time looks routed in the 80s but this isn't necessarily such a bad thing. The relative dullness, the low contrast and saturation of the photography, allow the plot's tension and excitement to come to the fore rather than distract from it.
Ford excels in the lead in a role more akin to Jack Ryan than to Mr Jones, while the supporting cast do rather well with their own limited characters. All in all an entertaining, well-paced thriller that never outstays its welcome.