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STUDIO: Summit Entertainment
RUNNING TIME: 128 minutes
An unnamed Ghost Writer is hired to finish the memoirs of the former U.K. Prime Minister.
Ewan McGregor, Olivia Williams, Kim Cattrall, Timothy Hutton, Jim Belushi and Pierce Brosnan
The Ghost Writer was a really solid film that continues Polanski’s streak of better works. Starting with The Pianist, film fans began to believe that we had the old master back. We spent too long watching shit like Bitter Moon, Pirates and The Ninth Gate. Polanski is a creative force that was always willing to probe sacred areas that polite society always avoided. That last bit came out weird. What I meant to say was Polanski always had a knack of tackling something while it was young and fresh. Yeah, that sounds better. His latest film tackles the dangerous world of political hot-button topics such as rendition and subterfuge.
last ghost writer for Adam Lang’s memoirs has just been found dead in New England. Adam Lang is the recently retired Prime Minister of England who has flown across the Atlantic to reside at his private compound in Montauk. The manuscript for Lang’s memoirs are kept locked in a single room inside of the compound where only a few eyes have ever glanced at its pages. Fearing that the publication date might get blown, the publisher sends a new ghost writer to Montauk. This Ghost is semi-familiar with Lang’s recent troubles, but it’s almost too late before he starts to piece it all together.
The Ghost Writer delves right into the paranoid cinema where Polanski cut his teeth. Ewan McGregor’s Ghost is the usual Polanski hero, as he sets out into deep waters without a paddle. Almost everyone in this film knows more about the world than the Ghost, yet the plucky writer doesn’t let it get him down. Delving deeper into the death of the previous writer, Lang’s people are constantly dogging The Ghost. Kim Cattrall shows up to prove that she’s still a decent actress. It’s not like she had any purpose other than to talk about Lang while he wasn’t on camera.
Ewan McGregor and Pierce Brosnan might be the headliners, but there are so many wonderful smaller performances that almost get ignored in the star power wake. Timothy Hutton, Jim Belushi and Olivia Williams all deliver memorable turns. But, the glory belongs to Olivia Williams as Lang’s long-suffering wife. Williams takes what should be a thankless role and turns in the performance of the film. She’s not so much a wilting flower, as a Lady MacBeth with a degree of patience. Playing the Ghost Writer for the chump, Williams discovers how much everyone knows and where to place them. People playing people playing other people usually gets old fast, but Polanski knows how to keep your eye on the ball.
The Ghost Writer does almost slip into that typical political thriller bullshit territory. I chalk a lot of that up to the source novel by screenplay co-writer Robert Harris. The novel isn’t terrible, it’s just that there isn’t a lot of meat in it. Polanski managed to mine the character moments out of the pages upon pages of setup to actually create a story. Going back to the use of Williams’ character, she’s almost a deus ex machina in the original book. In the film, we see her arc build from her moments in Montauk to the final revelation about Lang. There’s no sudden nose slicings or Faye Dunaway slap fests to keep the viewer’s attention on the screen, therefore I don’t expect a lot of casual watchers to stick with Williams’ subtle turn. Polanski seems to be advancing in his golden years, as a director who lets the natural narrative speak for itself.
When Brosnan shows up, you’ve already had an hour’s worth of characters look sullen and talking about the dark nature of Lang’s memoirs. Brosnan comes across as almost jovial, but not in a malicious way. Hell, I’d almost call it the perfect portrayal of a politican. The wise old fool kept so far away from the inner workings of real politics, that he’s as clueless as the voters he tries to seduce. Eventually, the Ghost starts to prod Brosnan as to whether England turned over prisoners to be tortured by the United States. This doesn’t go over well, but it almost slips back into my same complaint about Cattrall. While Williams and McGregor develop naturally, Brosnan and Cattrall just work as this unnecessary chorus for people that don’t understand why torture is so terrible.
Characters talking about other characters to further advance the plot. It’s lazy, but is it a necessary part of the paperback political thriller? That is to say that the source novel isn’t that mind-blowing, so should we apply the same laid-back rules to the film? Not when it’s from Polanski. For as much as Polanski improves the story, there’s still weird threads left dangling by the end of the picture. Lang and his posse come across as 2-D spooks who are always quick on the answer. Nobody knows anything, but everyone knows something. The only espionage tropes missing from the flick are trenchcoats, passwords and shitty editing.
The Ghost Writer almost reaches that level of past excellence for Polanski. You feel that he’s a hair away from a better ending. Hell, you feel that it might’ve been studio interference that screwed up the first half of the film. Truth is that all of the choices onscreen came from a healthy joint effort between Robert Harris and Roman Polanski. The faults are what they are and most of that falls back on the weak nature of the story. We’ve seen it before and it’s been done with the usual results. This film improves the journey, by making us care about the fragile world of the movie. Lang is charismatic and a little dim, but he seems honest. The Ghost cares about who is meeting and he wants the manuscript to turn into a best-seller. Everyone is hoping for the best, while a certain someone is waiting for the other shoe to drop.
You might find fault with Polanski in light of recent events and other shit over the last three decades. But, keep the kiddie butt-pirate shenanigans out of your views of the man’s artistic output. That being said, everyone that gets plowed in this film is well above the age of consent. Before I forget, I have to mention that Eli Wallach does show up for a few minutes in the film. I love Tuco as much as the next cineaste, but that guy is starting to look like a zombie. Ernest Borgnine is looking well for being 249, I wonder what he did differently than Wallach. Old people give me the creeps.
encoded transfer is a very healthy transfer for a lower-key film. Skin tones are presented in a true-to-life fashion, while black levels and field of depth are among the best I’ve seen this year. The DTS-HD master audio track holds up and allows for a robust 5.1 sound stage. However, the more I fiddle with this flipper discs…I begin to have doubts. Coming out of the last generation of DVD, I’m left to wonder why studios haven’t learned from the past. While a combo pack is nice and serves as a healthy bridge for reluctant buyers, a thick BD-50 flipper discs feel short-termed. When the eventual disc rot happens, will the DVD side still function five years down the road?
follows a rather clever pattern than Summit has been taking with their Blu-Ray releases. Summit knows that outside of Twilight, they don’t have many major films. Their Blu-Ray combo packs allow fans to get their favorite films in HD, while still getting a DVD copy to share with others. The special features are sparse, but they contain the basic elements that any other studio would show similar films. There’s a few featurettes about the production and some interviews with talent. While a commentary would’ve been nice, I believe that Mr. Polanski was under house arrest at the time.