Ghost Writer, The

The Ghost Writer The Ghost Writer The Ghost Writer The Ghost Writer The Ghost Writer

 

It’s a relief (for me) to talk about the latest film of Roman Polanski, the worthy but flawed and diffuse “The Ghost Writer,” rather than discuss his personal life as a sex offender, issues that have preoccupied the news media for almost a year. 
 
 
That said, for whatever reason, it feels as if Polanksi was not in complete control of the movie, particularly in the post-production phases. “Ghost Writer” lacks the sharpness of theme and elegance of style we have come to associate with maestro Polanksi’s best work, from his brilliant Polish directing debut, “Knife in the Water,” all the way to “Chinatown,” arguably his masterpiece, and the accomplished and touching, “The Pianist,” which won him the 2002 Best Director Oscar.
 
“Ghost Writer” is Polanski's first contempo thriller in 22 years, since “Frantic,” in 1988, with Harrison Ford, which was both an artistic and commercial flop. Based on the novel “The Ghost” (a better title), by best-selling author Robert Harris, which won the 2008 International Thriller Writers’ Award for best novel, the scenario is co-penned by Harris and Polanski.
 
World-premiering at the Berlin Film Fest, “Ghost Writer” will be released in a platform mode by Summit Entertainment on February 19.
 
Unfolding as a consistently engaging political thriller, the narrative tells the story of former British Prime Minister Adam Lang, (Pierce Brosnan) who is holed up on a secluded island off America’s Eastern seaboard in midwinter, writing his memoirs. (It's the kind of physical setting that Stephen King has used in his novellas).
 
When his long-standing aide drowns, quite mysteriously, a professional ghostwriter (Ewan McGregor, playing a nameless character) is sent out to help him finish the book. The anonymous, seemingly quiet ghostwriter is then drawn into a political and sexual intrigue involving Lang’s wife Ruth (Olivia Williams) and his aide Amelia Bly (Kim Cattrall, of “Sex and the City” fame). More significantly on a broader political level, the threat of a war crimes trial and a mysterious secret from his past that threatens to jeopardize Lang’s life and international relations, too.
 
One of the greatest, most sophisticated visual filmmakers around, with special penchant for smooth storytelling, Polanski, unlike Scorsese (for example), does not call attention for himself and his work.  Polanski is a great mover and manipulator of the camera, which serves extremely his elaborate mise-en-scene. 
 
Here, the systemic (and systematic) tension builds up from the very first scene, which depicts a barge pulling up to a dock, about to download a cargo of commuter cars onto an island retreat. Like the opening image of Hitchcock’s great thriller “Frenzy,” in this picture, a corpse washes ashore.
 
Cut to a group of men, who gather in an office to give McGregor's character the job of helping complete the memoirs of the ethically dubious former Prime Minister.   Things really kicked out dramatically after Lang is called out for his wrongdoing, and McGregor sets out on his own to unravel a tangled web that links his boss to a Cambridge scholar and reveals cracks in Lang's story about his political origins.
 
Like many of Hitchcock’s heroes, McGregor’s motivations are shifty and ambiguous. He is certainly not a moralistic figure, committed to the right causes at all costs, even if he pretends to be one.  Curiosity, with a touch of voyeurism and perversity, motivate his conduct and actions.  Moreover, again like in a Hitchcockian tale, McGregor becomes sort of the “wrong man,” first and foremost needing to grapple with the issue of his own survival–against darkly ominous and ever-growing threatening enemies.
 
It just happens that both Scorsese and Polanski have new movies that open on the same day, February 19. Though they are vastly different directors, their latest films share some attributes in common. Like Scorsese’s paranoia thriller “Shutter Island,” Polanski’s “Ghost Writer” is based on a popular novel. And like “Shutter Island,” “Ghost Writer” is set on an isolated island off the Northeast coast, a setting that both helmers marvelously exploit. Finally, in both movies, the horrendous weather and torrential rains play a major role in the narrative.
 
“Ghost Writer” displays Polanski’s known, quite familiar by now, cynical and bitter vision, one which assumes that greed and corruption are basic facts of contempo politics and flawed characters part of human nature.  How can he not have such worldview, considering his background as survivor of the Holocaust and the product of a terrifying childhood, not to mention the fact that his beloved wife, actress Sharon Tate, was viciously murdered (while pregnant) by the crazy murderous band, the Manson family.
 
Production values are good if not spectacular, which may be a function of the budget. The three-month shoot took place on location in Germany and at Berlin’s Babelsberg Studios.
 
Despite the shortcomings of “Ghost Writer” in style, the movie deals with political intrigue, disgraced politicos, and behind-closed-doors machinations, turning it into a timely, relevant work, and not to be underestimated, one of the most joyous experiences this spring.
 
Though the setting is genuinely British, emphasizing how the Brits deal with terrorism vis-à-vis the dubious American ICC jurisdiction, the basic situation could apply to other locales and times.
 
Cast:
 
Ewan McGregor
Kim Cattrall
Olivia Williams
Pierce Brosnan
Tom Wilkinson
Timothy Hutton
Eli Wallach
Robert Pugh
Jim Belushi
Credits
 
Berlin International Film Festival — Competition (Summit Entertainment)
Production companies: Summit Entertainment, Alain Sarde and Robert Benmussa present an R.P. Films, France 2 Cinema, Studio Babelsberg, Runteam III Ltd. production
Director: Roman Polanski
Screenwriters: Roman Polanski, Robert Harris
Based on the novel by: Robert Harris
Producers: Roman Polanski, Robert Benmussa, Alain Sarde, Timothy Burrill
Director of photography: Pawel Edelman
Production designer: Albrecht Konrad
Music: Alexandre Desplat
Costume designer: Dinah Collin
Editor: Herve de Luze
Rated PG-13
 
Running time: 128 minutes