The Films of Roman Polanski
Knife in the Water
The Fearless Vampire Killers
Rosemary's Baby (April 3/11)
Based on the novel by Ira Levin, Rosemary's Baby follows a young couple (John Cassavetes' Guy and Mia Farrow's Rosemary) as they move into an ornate old building and set out to start their lives together - with Rosemary's eventual pregnancy triggering a series of progressively sinister happenings. There's little doubt that Rosemary's Baby demands a fair bit of patience from the viewer, as the movie has been infused with an almost excessively deliberate pace that is, at the outset, exacerbated by the pervasively theatrical atmosphere - with the far-from-subtle performances certainly standing as the most obvious example of this. It's just as clear, however, that writer/director Roman Polanski does an effective job of slowly-but-surely ratcheting up the tension and building an atmosphere of horror, which proves instrumental in heightening the impact of the movie's suspense-oriented moments (ie an impressively conceived and executed dream/rape sequence). There is, as a result, no denying the effectiveness of the movie's now-infamous final stretch, with Farrow's incredibly stirring turn as the increasingly beleaguered protagonist certainly going a long way towards perpetuating the inherent horror of the admittedly over-the-top climax. And although Polanski does stumble here and there - ie Christopher Komeda's dated and hopelessly overbearing score diminishes the effectiveness of at least one pivotal scene - Rosemary's Baby, for the most part, comes off as a bona fide classic of the horror genre that still packs a considerable punch all these years later.
Frantic (July 20/11)
Though not quite the crackerjack thriller promised by its title, Frantic is nevertheless a solid, consistently entertaining piece of work that boasts a typically stellar performance from Harrison Ford. The film casts Ford as Richard Walker, an American in Paris whose minor annoyance at grabbing the wrong suitcase from the airport escalates substantially after his wife (Betty Buckley's Sondra) mysteriously vanishes from their hotel room. It's an inherently engrossing premise that is, at the outset, employed to electrifying effect by Roman Polanski, as the director does a superb job of immediately luring the viewer into the proceedings and wringing suspense out of seemingly innocuous happenings. (In terms of the latter, there's a great shot in which Ford's character showers while his wife receives an ominous phone call in the background.) It's only as Richard embarks on an investigation that takes him deeper and deeper into Paris' seedy underworld (and pairs him up with Emmanuelle Seigner's mysterious Michelle) that Frantic begins to lose some of its momentum, with Polanski's meandering sensibilities ensuring that the film's midsection is, for the most part, not quite as taut as it should be. The compelling nature of Richard's ongoing efforts, combined with the periodic inclusion of suspenseful interludes, proves effective at sustaining the viewer's interest even through the movie's more demonstrably overlong stretches, and there's little doubt that the whole thing picks up substantially with the arrival of a fast-paced, thoroughly exciting third act - which ultimately cements Frantic's place as an erratically-paced yet engaging thriller.
Death and the Maiden
The Ninth Gate (July 8/11)
The Ninth Gate follows book dealer/investigator Dean Corso (Johnny Depp) as he agrees to authenticate a rare text for a shifty client (Frank Langella's Boris Balkan), with the film subsequently detailing Dean's initial efforts at tracking down the book's other two owners and, eventually, avoiding the advances of increasingly sinister forces. Filmmaker Roman Polanski has infused The Ninth Gate with a decidedly (and exceedingly) deliberate pace that does, at the outset, prevent the viewer from wholeheartedly embracing the material, with the hands-off atmosphere slowly-but-surely alleviated by Depp's engaging work and Polanski's unabashedly theatrical directorial choices. The progressively compelling vibe is heightened by the periodic inclusion of shock-twinged interludes (eg Corso is attacked by the very woman he just finished having sex with), and although the mystery at the heart of the narrative initially displays some promise, The Ninth Gate suffers from a case of almost disastrous overlength that becomes more and more problematic as the movie unfolds - with the growing emphasis on illogical elements certainly not doing the proceedings any favors. The watchable feel persists right up until Depp's character arrives at an Eyes Wide Shut-esque gathering at a fancy estate, after which point the film begins to peter out to a distressingly demonstrable degree - with the abrupt conclusion ensuring that the movie ends on as underwhelming and baffling a note as one could possibly envision (ie what the heck happened, exactly?) Still, The Ninth Gate is a passable piece of work that clearly would've benefited from a much, much shorter running time and it ultimately does go without saying that Polanski's fans will find more to embrace here than his detractors.
The Ghost Writer (March 20/10)
Based on the book by Robert Harris, The Ghost Writer follows a struggling writer (Ewan McGregor) as he's hired to complete the memoirs of former British prime minister Adam Lang (Pierce Brosnan) - with trouble ensuing as McGregor's character is drawn into a far-reaching conspiracy that ultimately threatens his very life. It's clear that The Ghost Writer fares best in its opening half hour, as filmmaker Roman Polanski effectively draws the viewer into the proceedings by emphasizing McGregor's fish-out-of-water exploits after he arrives at Lang's breachfront hideaway - with the magnetic nature of the characters' back-and-forth rapport heightened by McGregor and Brosnan's superb work. The movie's momentum takes a rather substantial hit once Brosnan temporarily exits the picture, however, and although Polanski does pepper the narrative with appreciatively compelling bits of business (ie Tom Wilkinson's brief turn as a subtly sinister friend of Lang's), there's little doubt that The Ghost Writer's midsection is simply not as enthralling as that which preceded it (ie the film settles into a disappointingly talky, almost stagy sort of groove). The relatively stagnant atmosphere persists right up until the reveal of an admittedly surprisingly third-act development, with the strength of this twist effectively propelling the movie right through to its note-perfect final shot - thus cementing The Ghost Writer's place as an uneven yet refreshingly grown-up thriller that should satisfy Polanski's fans.