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While attending a medical conference in Paris, Dr. Richard Walker’s wife mysteriously disappears. With the authorities proving no help, he takes matters into his own hands, hooking up the awkward beautiful Michelle who knows something she’s not telling.


Here’s a terrific set-up. Roman Polanski does Hitchcock in Paris with Harrison Ford in the lead, and for the first half it more than lives up to its billing. Ford working well against type, ditches the macho-crap, that aura of dominant certainty, for a nerveball academic stumped that a situation like this would ever force entry into the safe confines of his life. During an early action sequence, he stumbles after the heroin-chic fatale-charms of Emmanuelle Seigner’s Michelle across slippery rooftops desperately trying to quell the tide of vertigo-induced nausea. Never have we seen Indiana Jones so unmanned.

Suffused with paranoia, as Walker bounces off the faceless wall of indifference of the authorities — he traverses the usual stations of concierge, embassy and police to no avail — Polanski both references the sharp trill of the master’s games and also plays with the form. Walker’s xenophobic tendencies are teasingly forced back into his face. And he must sink beneath the city’s glittery surface into the sordid haunts of the Parisian underworld where the film starts to hint at obviousness, swiftly exhausting its invention.

This stiff doctor, his face a picture of frustration and distaste, is tugged through punkish nightclubs and across the regulation parade of weirdoes toward some kind of denouement. And this being Polanski, he gets suitably excited by the effect this sleek, sexy girl is having on Walker. Seigner, in her first film, is quite something, pouty and exotic, a livewire. You half want Walker to forgo the absconded wife for this slender flame of a girl.

The film finally collapses in its writing. Out of all this labyrinthine plotting and flirting, emerges a flaccid ending so silly it threatens to ruin the film. It certainly spoils the clammy atmosphere of alien threat — that it could be this strange city itself that has stolen his wife. And from the director of Chinatown that is unforgivable.

Frantic is Polanski's most satisfying film since Chinatown, and one of the best traditional thrillers to come down the pike in quite some time.