THE GHOST WRITER (2010)
Starring Ewan McGregor, Olivia Williams, Kim Cattrall, Pierce Brosnan, Timothy Hutton, Tom Wilkinson, Robert Pugh, James Belushi, David Rintoul, Jon Bernthal, Soogi Kang, Lee Hong Thay, Marianne Graffam, Kate Copeland and Eli Wallach.
Screenplay by Roman Polanski and Robert Harris.
Directed by Roman Polanski.
Distributed by Paramount Pictures. 138 minutes. Rated R.
Roman Polanski has been back in the news lately due to his house arrest stemming from fleeing the US after a 1977 statutory rape case. I’m not going to get into the specifics of that case – enough people have hashed it out and I’m not going to change anyone’s mind, even if I myself weren’t conflicted about it – but no matter whether he is indeed guilty or not, it would be a shame if his legal problems were to cause people to ignore his latest film.
The Ghost Writer is simply one of the best films in an extremely strong body of work which includes such classics as Rosemary’s Baby, Chinatown and The Pianist. Particularly coming so hot on the heels of fellow genius filmmaker Martin Scorsese’s uneven thriller Shutter Island, The Ghost Writer is another strong argument for the fact that Polanski may be the best thriller director since Alfred Hitchcock.
Hitchcock’s name is not used frivolously. The Ghost Writer does have the old-fashioned feel of the classic dramas from the Master of Suspense, and at the same time its savvy political paranoia feels wonderfully up-to-date. There is never a false note, nor does Polanski’s regular bleak world view seem at all implausible in the current political client.
Ewan McGregor plays the title character (somewhat fittingly, he is never given a name), a writer who specializes in putting together memoirs for famous non-writers. His latest job is his biggest by far – and also his hardest. He must write the memoirs of Adam Lang (played by Pierce Brosnan), the Tony Blair-like former Prime Minister of England. The original ghost writer has died mysteriously after finishing the first draft, so if the new ghost can get it done within a month he will get a grand payday of $250,000.
The ghost knows he is in over his head from the beginning. He knows almost nothing about politics (his most recent book was an autobiography of a magician called I Came, I Sawed, I Conquered), the deadline is way too tight, the original manuscript is being treated with extreme security at a Cape Cod mansion and the former PM is in the middle of a human rights scandal and not really in the mood to cooperate.
However, as the man was hired to spice up existing manuscript, he starts investigating things himself suddenly uncovering some information about the first ghost’s death, the politician’s past, a mysterious Harvard professor and an evil multi-national corporation.
Soon, the writer becomes queasily aware of people following him and becomes suspicious of even the most normally innocuous people surrounding him. Everyone is acting oddly: the bitter wife, the smart publicist, the professor, the political foe of the prime minister, even the cook and driver.
The storyline is obviously very much based upon the story of Blair and his relationship with the Bush administration – and yet Polanski and Harris are savvy enough to change it enough that it is not just some cheap “ripped from the headlines” stunt.
When the former Prime Minister is accused of war crimes, he also must take refuge away from home – a plot point which no doubt appealed to Polanski.
The Ghost Writer is a smart thriller – brave enough not to rely on cheap thrills but rather allow the suspense to simmer due to the characters and situations. It is a masterful work and mirrors Polanski’s long-held dark and cynical outlook.
Of course none of this will matter if people allow a distaste for Polanski’s apparent real life crime (and he is guilty, even with certain extenuating circumstances) to make them avoid The Ghost Writer. In this article, we are only going to judge Polanski as an artist and not a man. On that level, Polanski is at the top of his game and it would be a real shame if The Ghost Writer is lost to the media circus.
Jay S. Jacobs
Copyright ©2010 PopEntertainment.com. All rights reserved. Posted: March 9, 2010.