Harrison Ford stars as a doctor staying in Paris with his wife (Betty Buckley) whilst attending a convention. They soon realise that they have the wrong suitcase, and quickly alert the airport. He goes to have a shower, the phone rings and his wife answers it, but he can’t hear anything because of the running water. When he gets out, his wife is nowhere to be found. Ford speaks no French, the local authorities don’t seem to be of any use, nor the local embassy (represented by John Mahoney), and so he is left to himself to search. Emmanuelle Seigner plays the owner of the suitcase Ford’s wife picked up, David Huddleston plays a colleague of Ford’s, and Dominique Pinon plays a barfly who tries to help Ford at one point.
A lot of people seemed to regard the 2011 Liam Neeson film “Unknown” as an update (or perhaps rip-off) of this 1988 Roman Polanski (“Repulsion”, “Rosemary’s Baby”, “Chinatown”) thriller, but the truth is, both that film and this one owe a lot to ‘The Master’, Sir Alfred Hitchcock. This is pure Hitchcockian thriller goodness, and with an ever-reliable (and ever-relatable) Harrison Ford in the lead, it’s a pretty riveting thriller. Just about everything is top-notch here, right down to the impressive titles design and the typically excellent music score by the great Ennio Morricone (“For a Few Dollars More”, “The Good, the Bad, and The Ugly”, “Once Upon a Time in the West”). It’s a lively score, but it probably won’t please those who disliked his modern flourishes in “The Untouchables” (Crazy people, you are! That soundtrack is a damn masterpiece). You also get typical Polanski touches like a call-back to “Rosemary’s Baby” where Betty Buckley is on the phone seen through a shower glass door (in the earlier film, John Cassavetes was seen on the phone surrounded by a door frame, in the background of the shot). Was Polanski deliberately signifying something conspiratorial through a mere visual reference? Or was I just looking too deeply? It doesn’t matter, because it had me suspicious anyway. There’s also an interesting use of low ceilings that may be Polanski giving a tip of the hat to Orson Welles’ landmark “Citizen Kane”. However, as much as this is a very Hitchcockian thriller (many cite “The Man Who Knew Too Much” as being rather similar, which isn’t inaccurate), there’s only one overtly Hitchcockian moment, a hairy rooftop scene that although not involving “Vertigo”, will certainly have you thinking of that film.
Harrison Ford really is excellent here at selling the frustration and confusion (and ever-so slight panic). He may not be Mr. Excitement as an actor (or human being for that matter), but when he’s well-cast and committed, there’s hardly a more reliable presence on screen. He has one scene on the phone to his kid where he has to pretend everything is fine, and it’s some of the best acting he has ever done. It’s a pretty irresistible yarn, you keep watching because you wanna see where it goes and find out if you guessed correctly or not. I must say, I was drawing a blank throughout, and ultimately this film and “Unknown” don’t end up being all that similar in terms of their mystery. David Huddleston and Dominique Pinon end up pretty poorly wasted, though the latter’s one scene is memorable. Although she seems quite a bit older than Ford, Betty Buckley is actually a bit younger than him, interestingly enough. Aside from that, they’re actually a pretty believable couple, which is actually really important under the circumstances.
Roman Polanski and Harrison Ford do Hitchcockian thriller. Why has this film seemingly fallen through the cracks over the years? It’s really effective, engrossing stuff made by pros. It’s better than a lot of Hitchcock imitators, it’s not so much underrated as overlooked perhaps. A really easy recommendation, who doesn’t enjoy a good Hitchcockian thriller? Polanski fans won’t even need me to tell them to see this. Polanski co-scripted with Gerard Brach (“Repulsion”, “The Name of the Rose”, “Blueberry”).