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Steven’s Rating: 8/10
Player Affinity Composite Rating: 7.6/10
(3 Reviews Total)
The giant gray cloud that hovers over the setting for almost the entirety of Roman Polanski’s The Ghost Writer is like the film’s suspense. The truly excellent mysteries in cinema are drawn out, almost at times torturous, hanging questions over our heads like — giant gray clouds. I wouldn’t say The Ghost Writer, new on DVD and Blu-ray today, deserves comparison to Polanski’s masterpiece Chinatown, but it’s very much in that tradition, only substitute private investigator for biographer. It’s the story of the man who doesn’t know what he’s gotten into until he’s into it and the audience never saw it coming but strangely we knew it all along.
In a 10-film Best Picture category, a movie such as The Ghost Writer deserves to be bookmarked and reconsidered at year’s end. Elevating it above gimmicky thrillers such as this year’s Shutter Island — excellently crafted, but gimmicky — are the performances of Ewan McGregor, Pierce Brosnan, Kim Cattrall and Olivia Williams that at times make the film feel more parts drama than thriller. Then there’s suspense that Polanski creates by use of sheer storytelling, not throwing together a single artsy scene that outwardly forces questions. It’s the difference between demanding audience interest and earning it.
McGregor stars as The Ghost, a writer hired to replace the recently deceased ghost writer of former British prime minister Adam Lang (a take on Tony Blair no doubt), a figure lately shrouded in human rights controversy. I, for one, went through the whole film thinking I missed The Ghost’s name, when it was never given. The effectiveness of that doesn’t catch up to you until after the film’s end. Much of the film is back-loaded, which is not ideal but it packs a heck of a punch. Anyway, The Ghost begins to uncover a mystery as he learns about Lang’s life and Lang tries to quell a PR nightmare.
Anchoring it all are great performances. Lang is easily Brosnan’s best dramatic role. I haven’t seen some of McGregor’s recent films, but he’s at his best since at least Big Fish. His inner monologue is nice and subtle, playing this “mystery protagonist” just right, never overdoing it in a role that with all the camera time would seem more important than it really is. It was also refreshing to see Cattrall in a role very far from Samantha that she plays with with class and Williams continues to put herself on the map, this time with a more enigmatic, intriguing role.
The Ghost Writer is the kind of film you could equate to a specific piece of music. It has a distinct tone that creeps over you. Maybe it’s just Alexandre Desplat’s hauntingly perfect score that makes the comparison easy to draw, but there’s an undeniable feel to Polanski’s film. He’s a director that lets the story tell itself (easy to do when you have a hand in the writing), only allowing moments and images to linger enough to arouse your suspicions. It’s more great craft than excellent story, but it’s a memorable (and overdue) effort from Polanski.
The Ghost Writer
Directed by Roman Polanski
Written by Robert Harris (novel, adaptation), Roman Polanski
Starring: Ewan McGregor, Pierce Brosnan, Kim Cattrall, Olivia Williams
Other Player Affinity Reviews
Simon thought: “Roman Polanski has always been a master of thrillers and in many ways The Ghost Writer is a return to form for the exiled director. While immersed in the narrative, this complex murder mystery never released my interest and as the tension mounted towards the finale my pulse continued to quicken. At the time, even the subtle but intelligent twist satisfied me infinitely. It was not until after I pondered over the film the following day that The Ghost Writer became unfulfilling. The minimalist approach leaves much to be desired and diminishes the experience of repeat viewings. I do not want to appear overly harsh towards this film as there is much to recommend and I would urge everyone to seek out this sleeper hit. My hope would lie that ultimately other people find more to contemplate in the long run then I did.” Rating: 7/10
Kieran thought: “Anyone who has ever read a Richard Harris novel will know he is a very intelligent and talented author. It is refreshing that one of his thrillers is being given the Hollywood treatment compared to the usual schlock such as Dan Brown’s work. Under the expert direction of Roman Polanski, The Ghost Writer is a subtle, slow burning thriller in a traditional style, where the mystery is revealed gradually. He improves on the character of The Ghost (Ewan McGregor), making him more worldly wise. Pierce Brosnan gives his best performance since leaving the Bond series and avoids playing Adam Lang as impression of Tony Blair. The conspiracy in the film is told in a realistic and believable way. The Ghost Writer is an excellent film to anyone who is interested in politics and spy thrillers. Polanski shows that a thriller does not need countless action scenes to hold the audiences attention. Yet at times The Ghost Writer is too slow, leading to the risk of boredom. Also considering Harris’ views on Tony Blair’s foreign policy and that the portrayal of Ruth Lang (AKA Clerie Blair) is much more harsher and true to life in the novel, The Ghost Writer should have been more angry in tone.” Rating: 8/10
Player Affinity Composite Rating: 7.6/10