The Ghost Writer: An Author’s Wetdream

23 Mar

An entertaining thriller that suffers slightly from political allegory, The Ghost Writer will keep you watching, but leave you wondering. The latest installment from exiled filmmaker Roman Polanski (The Pianist) follows the ghost, played by Ewan McGregor with his usual level of quiet confidence and quality, as he re-writes the memoirs of the ex-British Prime Minister Adam Lang (Pierce Brosnan), aka Tony Blair, after the previous ghost died of mysterious circumstances.

It’s all setup well enough with the ghost (he’s too cool to have a credited name) arriving on the scene in Cape Cod to find Lang cooped up with his secretary/staffer/lover Amelia (Kim Cattrell) and his wife/political confidant Ruth (Olivia Williams). So naturally he is a little stressed out when McGregor shows up to make him tell his life story all over again. What puts the ghost even more on edge is the secrecy surrounding the memoir manuscript is kept.

As the secrecy begins to unnerve the ghost the whole situation becomes even more complicated when the International Criminal Court (ICC) decides to investigate Lang for approving a flight sending terrorists to America so they can be tortured. Naturally, because you wouldn’t want to investigate the US for the torture, just those nasty Brits for being being compliant.

The background is peppered with shots of water boarding and evening news segments about what is torture. Enter the feeling that you’re being lectured to about politics instead of enjoying the mystery and tension of an increasing good paranoid-thriller.

Meanwhile, back at the ranch McGregor (I’d rather call him that then the ghost…like he’s a lame superhero) is trying to re-write a boring memoir, when he comes across some hidden photos left behind by his deceased predecessor. The photos and some cryptic notes help McGregor begin to unravel a conspiracy theory that involves Lang being a CIA agent. To complicate his growing paranoia about Lang Mrs. Lang starts to pull a Mrs. Robinson. McGregor is forced to duck women and spies to get to the heart of the truth. Classic.

Polanski is able to quietly weave an entertaining thriller that, while a little slowly paced, never leaves you bored and grows tension without drawn out action scenes or ominous music. McGregor and Brosnan are solid, as you would expect them to be. Cattrell is less than solid with a wandering accent and brief lapses into her morally loose Sex in the City persona. But on the whole, the production is top notch with a quality series of supporting roles.

The only problem I really had with this movie was the politics, which unnecessarily, but clearly purposely seeped into an otherwise enjoyable paranoid-thriller. But you could say that “hey it’s a thriller, maybe it’s a political paranoid thriller?”  No, not really.

It’s an important function of the plot that Lang is potentially guilty of war crimes, requiring McGuire to evalute how he is going to help Lang frame his place in history. But Polanski and his co-writer Robert Harris (bestselling author of the novel the film is based on), go out of their way to cast Lang as American lackey, which doesn’t serve the evolving conspiracy or help build up the characters.

It’s a movie that seems to be heavily focused on the role of a ghost writer and the natural conflict between representing history and tweaking past events in favor of presenting a certain character for history to remember…in this case Adam Lang (a.k.a. Tony Blaire).  Add in the dreary and rainy backdrop of a mostly deserted island off of Cape Cod, along with the tension of conspiracy driven paranoia and you’ve got a real quality film going. The personal politics of Polanski and Harris don’t ruin any of that, but it doesn’t exactly help it either.

An interesting side of the film is that Lang’s self-imposed exile in the US, which doesn’t recognize the jurisdiction of the ICC, is similar in many ways to Polanski’s own exile. Not to compare torture with Polanski’s allenged “relations” with a 13 year old, when he was over 40, but the point can still be made.  Polanski’s identification with Lang’s struggle with the media persecution and international legal trouble seems to have allowed him to more accurately represent the world of a troubled and wanted corrupt celebrity. It’s not an obvious parallel, but it’s a hard possibility to ignore.

Critics have been gushing over this film most likely because it makes being a writer exciting.  It reminds me of the computer nerds who loved The Matrix because it made living on the internet purposeful, and wearing leather cool. This is a quality movie no doubt, but not quite the absolute awesomeness some critics may make it out to be…adjust your expectations accordingly.

Directed by: Roman Polanski

Starring: Ewan McGregor, Pierce Brosnan, Kim Catrall. Olivia Williams,  Timothy Hutton, Tom Wilkinson, Robert Pugh, James Belushi. Directed by Roman Polanski from the script adapted by Roman Polanski and Robert Harris, from the Novel The Ghost by Robert Harris. Summit Entertainment. Running time: 2 hours.

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