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At its best, Polanski’s Frantic (1988) runs like clockwork. The film presents a single narrative, free from sub-plots, which develops quickly and is, for the most part, controlled. (After the first two-thirds of the picture, it all starts to unravel into silliness, as an apparently drug-motivated kidnapping becomes about an unexplained and underdeveloped threat of nuclear war.)
As I suggest about Kubrick’s Eyes Wide Shut (1999), causation is presented as seamless: though Dr. Richard Walker (Harrison Ford) is overwhelmed by the situation – unable to understand how one event leads to another – the viewer witnesses a story that unfolds so naturally that it only becomes clear retrospectively quite how far the picture achieves a Pynchonesque strangeness, ascending the rooftops of Paris and locating the end of the world in a miniature Statue of Liberty.
The ticktock of the story’s well-crafted progress is paralleled in the camera’s movement. The picture often preempts the orchestration of the actors or the props, nuzzling into or drawing away from what is at first blank space, creating a frame that is more ready to present the objects within it in rich and ambivalent ways. Just like Walker around Paris, the viewer is led around the scenes, as the camera moves before the props or the actors (rather than the other way round). The result is a slick mode of visual storytelling. It is a shame that the script cannot maintain such class, eventually running out of control.