Frantic ★★★½

I go hot and cold on the films of Roman Polanski. I find them quite often arresting visually and tonally, but often quite stark and alienating, and Frantic is no exception - yet it's probably one of the films of Polanski's I've enjoyed the most, doubtless given despite his enforced European exile its among the more traditional Hollywood of his movies, in fact it's got a lot in common with the classic Hitchcock feel of an earnest man thrown out of his depth into a carefully unfolding mystery. Frantic doesn't particularly live up to it's title in the action or tension stakes, but it does allow for a solid central performance by Harrison Ford that helps maintain the interest in a plot that, sadly, isn't quite as clever as it wants us to believe.

In many respects, Frantic feels like a dry run for Ford when it comes to one of his most well remembered movies, The Fugitive; it's not as strong a film but it allows for the same all-American relaxed charm giving way to an increasingly worn, harried manner that Ford does better than almost anyone. Ford will be remembered as a damn good actor simply because the weight of his restrained emotional performance can keep a viewer hooked, even when what's going on around him isn't particularly thrilling, and that's the case with Frantic. Polanski manages to convey a down and gritty coldness to his Paris throughout the first half, keeping the mystery disappearance of Ford's wife Betty Buckley just that, and alienating us as much as Ford's weary doctor on the streets of a city not his own. On the arrival of Emmanuelle Seigner's sultry & crafty fence Michelle, and the enigma is revealed... it all becomes a little too straightforward and, dare I say it, a touch far fetched. Seigner is good value - sensual, beguiling & nailing a dark comic wit, and her dynamic with Ford works well, but the plot twists that come with her build to a climax straight out of a different kind of film. Polanski shoots with a realistic vein of uncomfortable tension, but his story isn't as grounded as perhaps it could have been.

Despite quite a number of 80's trappings however, Frantic has aged quite well and manages to entertain by its sheer dogged refusal to give up on itself. Ford is perfectly cast, and Polanski directs with one eye on performance and visuals, but the narrative itself doesn't ever truly come alive in the way it perhaps could of, and equally this is missing a clever twist or two in the tale that would have elevated it potentially to the status of unmissable thriller. Nonetheless, one of Polanski's better movies and a solid, darkly comic thriller.

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