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Overall Rating
4.54

Awesome57.14%
Worth A Look: 39.29%
Just Average: 3.57%
Pretty Crappy: 0%
Sucks: 0%

3 reviews, 10 user ratings



Ghost Writer, The
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by Peter Sobczynski

"Roman Knows"
5 stars

With its combination of sex, violence, suspense, elaborate political conspiracies and wild plot twists, “The Ghost Writer” is a film that, placed in the hands of an ordinary filmmaker, could have turned out to be a smoothly made, perfectly serviceable and instantly forgettable thriller--the cinematic equivalent of the kind of novel that one generally only reads while killing time during a long airplane flight. However, through some confluence of events that can probably only be chalked up to that great movie god in the sky, perhaps as atonement for the existence of the upcoming “The Bounty Hunter,” the project found its way into the hands of none other than Roman Polanski, a filmmaker who has as many unquestioned masterpieces under his belt as anyone working today (everyone agrees on “Repulsion,” “Rosemary’s Baby,” “Chinatown” and “The Pianist” and I would throw in “The Tenant” and “Tess” for good measure) and whose occasional artistic missteps are still more interesting than the best efforts of most anyone else. (His infamous 1986 flop “Pirates” may be his worst film but I would take its freakish charms over the entire “Pirates of the Caribbean” trilogy in a heartbeat.) Before watching the film, the notion of Polanski working on something so seemingly anonymous and formulaic struck me as an odd way for him to utilize his considerable talents but after only a few minutes, those apprehensions were quickly erased because not only is “The Ghost Writer” a smart and efficient political thriller, it is also a Roman Polanski film through and through--not only that, it is, with the exception of “The Pianist,” easily the best thing he has done since “Bitter Moon” and possibly since “Tess.”

Ewan McGregor stars as an unnamed former journalist who now makes a living ghost-writing the autobiographies of famous people who lack the time, energy or literary talent to do it for themselves. As the story opens, he is summoned by his agent to a top-secret meeting where he is offered the job of completing work on the memoirs of former British Prime Minister Adam Lang (Pierce Brosnan) in the wake of the mysterious death of the previous ghost. He agrees and is quickly jetted off to America to work on the book in a remote beach house off of Martha’s Vineyard that Lang is using while embarking on a East Coast lecture tour meant to burnish his credentials as a retired statesman. When he arrives, he finds the place under virtual lockdown with access to the only copy of the book handled by Lang’s personal assistant, Amelia (Kim Cattrall) and when he reads it, he is even more mystified because the book is the kind of terminally boring and self-serving slog that men in Lang’s position tend to write and which the average person may buy but never actually read. Lang finally arrive to begin work on the book, accompanied by his cool and reserved wife Ruth (Olivia Williams), but he and the ghost have hardly begun when an unexpected bombshell threatens to disrupt everything when Lang former foreign minister (Robert Pugh) takes to the air to accuse him of approving a plan to kidnap four alleged Pakistani terrorists in order to hand them over to the C.I.A. to be tortured, a move that resulted in the death of one of them.

While Lang’s people close ranks in order to figure out whether Lang should return home to England and face the music for his alleged misdeeds or stay put in America where he can’t be touched for those potential crimes by the International Criminal Court (one of the funniest moments occurs when the names of the other countries who don‘t recognize the ICC are mentioned), the ghost finds himself being pressed upon by his publisher, who now wants the book even quicker in order to capitalize on all the unexpected publicity, from Adam, who implores him to write him a couple of press releases to send out to the media (“That makes you an accomplice”), from Ruth, whose interest in him seems to be growing outside the dictionary definition of “professional” and from his own nagging suspicion that something strange is going on. During his own private investigation, he learns that not only are there inconsistencies surrounding the death of the previous ghost, it seems that his predecessor not only discovered a shocking bombshell about Lang’s past but may have hidden it somewhere inside the manuscript. Now, not only is the ghost trying to uncover what that revelation might have been, he now finds himself being pursued by shadowy figures who presumably assume that he has discovered the secret and who want to do to him what they did to his predecessor.

Although the story of “The Ghost Writer” did not originate with Polanski, there are certain elements and ideas that obviously must have struck a chord with him when he read the book. While one shouldn‘t read too much into this, the notion of a famous person in a foreign land faced with the prospect of being forced home to face the music for his alleged past misdeeds is one that presumably and perversely resonated with him on some level. More importantly, the character of the ghost is an ideal example of the typical Polanski male protagonist--a smart and solitary man who thinks that he is smart enough to navigate his way through a corrupt and confusing world and the mysteries contained within but who winds up watching impotently from the sidelines as things get worse and worse despite his best efforts. What is impressive here is the way that he and Harris, who co-wrote the screenplay, have managed to deftly juggle these more personal elements within the confines of a narrative that is tricky and twisty while always playing fair with audiences and which somehow manages to serve both as a timeless thriller and as a biting and up-to-the-minute piece of political commentary as you will find in a non-documentary film. (Suffice it to say, any connections between Adam and Ruth Lang and Tony and Cheri Blair are pretty much anything but coincidental.) On the directing side of things, Polanski demonstrates once again that he is without a doubt one of the living masters of the form--he keeps the potentially convoluted plot humming along without getting bogged down in details, he is seemingly incapable of coming up with an uninteresting visual, his extended suspense set-pieces are little miracles of filmmaking craft, he knows how to punctuate scenes with welcome bits of weird humor and he wraps it all up with a final shot that is one of the most haunting moments of his entire career.

Although Polanski is pretty much the star of “The Ghost Writer,” this is a film that, not unlike last week’s “Shutter Island,” that is aided immeasurably by the contributions of virtually all of the participants across the board. Cinematographer Pawel Edelman, who worked with Polanski on “The Pianist” and “Oliver Twist,” does a masterful job of capturing the sodden and swampy atmosphere of Lang’s beach retreat and lends a slick and stylish edge to the extended scenes of cat-and-mouse that make up much of the second half of the film. Although the first half of the film contains virtually no score that I recall, the second half, which is more along the lines of pure cinema anyway, contains work from Alexander Desplat that does such an effective job of moving things forward that I dare say that Alfred Hitchcock himself would have given his eyeteeth to have access to it for one of his own thrillers. The performances are also quite striking all around. Some have complained that McGregor comes across as bland and bloodless in the early scenes but that is kind of the point--his character is there not to impose his own personality but to have someone else’s imposed on him--and when he takes control in the latter stages of the story, he comes into his own as well. Among the other leads, Brosnan is also quite good as the ersatz Tony Blair and Olivia Williams pretty much steals the film outright with a sexy and sinister turn that is perhaps the best thing she has done since “Rushmore.” There are also a lot of nifty one-scene turns from actors ranging from Eli Wallach and Tom Wilkinson to, of all people, Jim Belushi in a hilarious bit as the book publisher trying to get something of value for the book that he has unwisely paid ten million dollars to publish. There are only two minor elements that don’t quite fit in with the others. Although she doesn’t do anything technically wrong, Kim Cattrall isn’t very convincing as Lang’s British extra-personal secretary and stands out like a sore thumb in most of her scenes. Likewise, despite the Herculean efforts of the crew, the film never quite manages to make the German locations where it was shot look remotely like Martha’s Vineyard--this does add another certain sense of dislocation to the proceedings but not the kind that Polanski presumably intended on having.

Funny, gripping, topical and formally exquisite, “The Ghost Writer” is a superlative bit of contemporary filmmaking--coming on the heels of “Shutter Island,” it completes a one-two auteurist punch strong enough to make you forget about the artistic non-starters that have been infiltrating multiplexes over the last few months. Of course, I realize that for some of you, these words of praise will mean absolutely nothing because you won’t go to see anything made by Roman Polanski. I am not going to argue this point with you because I have no real interest in getting into a long debate on morality and ethics in what is supposed to be a film review (and I am going to hope that you will respond in kind.) All I am going to say is that if you do decide to skip over the film for those reasons, you are going to miss out on one hell of an entertaining film.

link directly to this review at http://www.hollywoodbitchslap.com/review.php?movie=20170&reviewer=389
originally posted: 02/26/10 00:01:14
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User Comments

8/31/12 Sean Harrison Amazingly gripping, considering it belonged to my least favorite genre of thriller. 5 stars
4/10/11 R.W. Welch Nicely concocted conspiracy flick tho the ending was a little too pat. 4 stars
12/12/10 Monday Morning Lots like "Michael Clayton" but not as good. Worth a look tho'. 4 stars
9/23/10 e nathanson taut drama, excellent performances,confusing ending 4 stars
8/29/10 Sevarian Excellent--an ending as futile as Chinatown 5 stars
8/21/10 the dork knight Classic Hitchock style thriller. Brosan's lair is damn creepy. 5 stars
8/14/10 matt worth a look or 3. certainly polanski at his best. great performances and cinematography 4 stars
7/26/10 Langano Well done. Polanski keeps up the tension throughout. 4 stars
5/08/10 mark reinhardt one of the best movies in the past few years. puts it right up there with Chinatown. 5 stars
2/19/10 PAUL SHORTT WELL MADE DRAMA WITH A GOOD STAR PERFORMANCE 3 stars
IF YOU'VE SEEN THIS FILM, RATE IT!
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USA
  19-Feb-2010 (PG-13)
  DVD: 03-Aug-2010

UK
  N/A

Australia
  19-Feb-2010
  DVD: 03-Aug-2010




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