Roman Polanski, Academy Award-winning director nominated for Oscars for “Tess”, “Chinatown,” and “Rosemary’s Baby” pleaded guilty in 1977 to a count of having unlawful sex with a minor, acknowledging this he fled the United States before he could be sentenced. U.S. authorities issued a warrant for his arrest in 1978.
He declined to collect his Academy Award for Best Director in person when he won it for “The Pianist” in 2003 to avoid being arrested if he enters the U.S.
On 26 September 2009, Polanski was taken into custody at the Zurich airport by Swiss police at the request of U.S. authorities, however, on 12 July 2010, the Swiss authorities announced that they would not extradite Polanski to the U.S.
After establishing himself as one of the most important international directors in the 60’s and 70’s he was unsurprisingly shunned by Hollywood for this unlawful act and the ‘80’s were uneventful for Polanski, directing only two feature films – Pirates (1986) and Frantic (1988).

Ironically for some his private life makes him more known than his films. Many years before his arrest, sadly, Polanski’s pregnant wife, Sharon Tate was murdered in 1969 while staying at the Polanski’s Benedict Canyon home above Los Angeles by members of the notorious Charles Manson ‘family’.

Polanski, now in his seventies, still lives in France and aside from his interesting personal life and his critical achievements I like to share with you my thoughts on his three most underrated and splendid thriller films Frantic The Ghost Writer and The Ninth Gate.

Even though these three films were appreciated by some critics they were not nominated by any major guild or festival for best picture, which in my opinion is a crying shame and while not perfect they are of no lesser interest than the aforementioned critically acclaimed Tess and Chinatown and Rosemary’s Baby.
What is notable about these films is that they are anti Hollywood in style, Frantic’s Euro-subtlety and The Ninth Gate in it’s odd narrative and The Ghostwriter in it unconventional settings.
There’s no coincidence that all have solemn endings and it easy to see why Polanski would be drawn to such projects.

Known under a few different titles The Ghost Writer borrows some of the serious and grounded elements of Roman Polanski’s Ninth Gate (1999). The tight thriller follows Ewan McGregor’s loner character, a ghostwriter hired to complete the memoirs of a former British Prime Minister (Pierce Brosnan), who becomes accused of war crimes. The writer soon uncovers a conspiracy that like his dead predecessor puts his own life in peril.

The lighting is superb, plenty of shadows adding to the ominous atmosphere, the locations and sets are attention-grabbing, with an unusual beach house setting and motel at one point. Alexandre Desplat’s score puts the viewer on edge.

There are fine performances from a cast of familiar faces including Robert Pugh, Eli Wallach, and Liz Hurley look-a-like Olivia Williams. Both Kim Cattrall and James Belushi go against type cast and deliver their best work in a long-time. Despite Brosnan’s shaky accent, he’s on good form playing the ex PM, Adam Lang perfectly.

Like with most of Polanski film’s there’s no overboard story telling, everything is subtle, natural and down to earth. There’s no need for big explosions or fast paced cut’s. McGregor is exceptional as an everyday man out of his depth. The tension is builds up slowly, taking time to immerses the viewer and follow the story from the Ghostwriter’s point of view. Credit must goto Robert Harris’ novel and adaptation of an intriguing, topical story but this film interestingly demonstrates not only what a great screenplay writer Polanski’s is, but like the Piano shows what he can do with a bigger budget.

It’s well crafted suspense thriller, admirably, Roman Polanski makes a mystery as good as they used to be.
In Frantic Harrison Ford offers his best performance a character study of a man who, tamed by his peaceful and conformist existence is forced into a seedy and risky dangerous world.

Written by Polanski himself alongside Gérard Brach. It has a classic Hitchcock narrative and appreciates the rules of the genre. From beginning to end, the director shows a deep discipline by the way in which he visually conducts the narrative, establishing and preparing each shot, framing and revealing in a methodical.

Although Frantic never gets ‘frantic’, the title refers to the psychological aspect of the narrative, it’s an edgy and suspenseful story. The pace of the movie is very slow but worth the wait as Dr.Richard Walker (Harrison Ford) is caught up in a web of Parisian night-clubs, drugs, seedy characters and terrorist games in order to find his kidnapped wife.

This is a tight little thriller which Roman Polanski has tackled in a personal down to earth manner without big guns and explosions. The characters are believable and you get caught up in Richard Walker’s (an ordinary man in an unordinary situation) journey to find his wife.

Ford and Emmanuelle Seigner’s (Polanski’s wife) performances are top-notch, the chemistry between the unlikely pairing is the making of the more interesting, tense and memorable scenes. Ford’s Doctor Walker changes from a desperate fish out of water, to a driven survivor, while striking Seigner (Michelle) goes from self-centred drug trafficker, to heroine. The supporting cast are fantastic, an array of crazy characters including- french tramps and desk Clerks, to bumbling American officials and dodgy French cops.

Polanski’s direction is excellent and the movie is worth a watch just for a nostalgic look at 80’s back street Paris. This is a fine production accompanied by an excellent memorable score from Ennio Morricone. Throw in Paris as your backdrop and you get one of the best thrillers of the 80’s in the vein of Dial M for Murder mixed with a dash of Chinatown.

Frantic is sorely underrated.

Filmed 11 years later The Ninth Gate is the film adaptation of The Dumas Club, written by Arturo Pérez-Reverte. Johnny Depp plays Dean Corso, a rare book dealer, who is in search of copies of a demon text “The Nine Doors To the Kingdom of Shadows”, a book purportedly written by Lucifer himself and is said to contain knowledge to raise the devil. Corso gets drawn into a conspiracy with supernatural overtones.

The film is actually a lot cleverer than it’s given credit for, a subtle subtext, complex story and so on. Johnny Depp gives a fantastic performance as a cynical morally corrupted anti-hero.

Polanski’s wife Emmanuelle Seigner’s is cast as a mysterious blonde. Lena Olin fleets in and out as to does Frank Langella (Boris Balkan) who gives a great exaggerated performance. Like Polanski’s Frantic there is an array of quirky characters that push the story forward to a intriguing conclusion.

The special effects are very minimal and used very effectively, Darius Khondji’s cinematography is excellent and Wojciech Killar score is superb. The Ninth Gate is a highly atmospheric occult thriller, a fascinating experience.
Polanski’s Frantic, The Ghost and The Ninth Gate have not been given the credit that they deserve, and while I’m not writing this to convert or sway opinions they are films that should not go unnoticed by movie-goers.

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