Richard and Sondra Walker are in Paris; Richard a well-respected doctor is there to attend a seminar. Having had a slightly less than inspiring trip to the hotel, Sondra is mortified to find that upon arrival she has the wrong suitcase. While Richard is in the shower Sondra takes a phone call, and leaves the room. Richard upon exiting the shows is a little bemused but not worried about his wife’s absence. Some hours later however, and he is; having fallen asleep through travel tiredness, he cannot account for his wife’s disappearance, Asking in the local area it soon becomes obvious that Sondra has left the hotel, but did she go willingly? The discovery of a dead body leads Richard to believe that this might not be the case.
Director Roman Polanski made Frantic in 1987, shot entirely on location in Paris the movie was released in 1988; strangely though the movie looked and felt almost a decade out of date. Harrison Ford stars as Richard, and is really put through the ringer in respect of his acting ability, and it has to be said, he is not on top form here. Ford whom I have always had the utmost respect fort seems very much running on empty here, his reactions very subdued for a man not knowing where his wife has gone. Blame has to of course be passed to Polanski who partially wrote the screenplay. For a man who lost his wife through a horrific murder (search Sharon Tate), you would expect Polanski to ensure his actor had more emotion upon finding his wife missing. Upon encountering people he knows, rather than tell them Sondra is missing, Richard say’s she’s fine; logic defines that the more people who know somebody is missing, the more chance there is of finding them.
Negatives out of the way, and Frantic is an highly enjoyable movie if not as I said earlier a touch dated, and if it was dated back in 88, imagine twenty odd years later how it looks now? It’s not the costumes, or the music, it seems to be the sets and locations featured in the movie, its as if Polanski has gone out of his way to find the dirtiest locations in Paris. This is not helped by the abysmal weather, which is seen through the entire film. Not once does the sun shine in Paris, neither do you get the feel of romance that Paris is known for. Instead you get this dark looking, grubby city, that appears to be one of the most un-inviting places on the earth. But maybe this was intentional, an American couple in an alien location? There are no trappings of the day either, nothing specifically 80’s; the music featured in nightclubs is way before the movies birth. If you look at a lot of French movies of the day, cell phones feature heavily though not in the way we see them now, yet in Frantic there is not even a hint of them.
In his quest to find his wife Richard teams up with Michelle (Emmanuelle Seigner whom started a relationship with Polanski during the making of the film). It’s this relationship between Michelle and Richard that gets the film going, she’s young and free thinking, with little respect for anything or anyone; while Richard is middle aged and stuffy, with concern about everything he does. The couple spend much of the movie bouncing off each other, it’s a great relationship throughout the movie, and possibly one of the most striking things about it.
The story is well played out, with the exception of the lack of care Richard shows, it gives you a rather unpleasant view of how foreigners are treated when they lose a loved one, whether its accurate or not it plays on the fears we all have when abroad. Ford gets his fair share of action in the movie, as well as a partially nude scene that we could all do without. For a movie so dark, there is a lot of black comedy in this, normally coming from Ford, as you can see his brain ticking over whatever image or statement has been made. It’s well rounded, but the end could have been a little better polished.
Italian composer Ennio Morricone delivers a blinding soundtrack, but then when doesn’t he. The music is very serene and totally goes against what has happened; yet it completely works.
Frantic was the first real sign that fans of Ford realised he was getting older, a year before the third Indiana Jones movie, and Ford already looked past it. It was quite shocking to see how much Ford had aged so quickly, and it is said that Polanski allowed him to have no make up at ant point during the movie. Cast next to Betty Buckley as his wife, a plain older looking actress until you get to spend a little more time with Ford, you feel she is much older than his character.
Frantic while dated does stand the test of time, as a being a very different thriller. For younger viewers finding the movie though, they may feel it’s a lot older than it actually is.