The Ghost Writer (2010) - Can't Stop the Movies
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The Ghost Writer (2010)

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ANDREW LIKEA ferry carrying a large number of automobiles stops to load up a fresh batch of passengers.  One vehicle is left in the road, supposedly abandoned by it's owner.  On a nearby beach, a body washes up on the cloudy shore.  Unless you fail at recognizing film grammar, you'll quickly recognize that these two are related in some way.  With those two images, Roman Polanski sets up a dark, quirky little mystery where all the clues are right there on the screen and tie up in a satisfying, if not quite transcendent, way in the end.

The body that washed ashore was the ghost writer of former British Prime Minister Adam Lang (Pierce Brosnan).  Lang has been recently outed as having ordered the illegal seizing of citizens and then allowing them to be tortured by the CIA.  This does not endear him to the press, and with the death of his ghost writer not many people are looking to take his position.  Thankfully, those facts are kept out of view for the dead writers replacement (Ewan McGregor), never named, and simply known as The Ghost in the credits.  The former writer may have discovered something incriminating that led to his demise and since we're watching a Polanski film, know that this is certainly the case.

Polanski slowly eeks in the off kilter creepiness early in The Ghost Writer.  The Ghost arrives on the island where he'll be interviewing the stressed Lang, and is greeted with the site of a home that wouldn't look out of place in a Hitchcock film, and staff that is about as creepy.  No one really seems to pay The Ghost much mind, and callously disregard his feelings (sample exchange, Ghost - "It's going well, he keeps calling me man."  Staff - "He always does that when he can't remember someone's name.")

There's some curious tension between the aides as well.  Lang's family is mostly kept out of view while the Ghost is visiting him, and his wife Ruth (Olivia Williams) seems to be the brains behind most of Lang's decisions.  She has some unspoken conflict with Amelia Bly (Kim Cattrall), who is engaging in a passive aggressive battle for control of the home and of Lang.  Eventually, the Ghost begins to grow suspicious of his surroundings and his situation.  Why do they want to rewrite the whole manuscript?  Why is Lang so hell bent on keeping his theater past out of the book?  Then it seems as though the American government has had it's hands in Lang's affairs for some time, but the extent that they have is unknown.

As far at the story is concerned, The Ghost Writer is a pretty routine mystery, but a very fun one.  It's pretty obvious that Brosnan's Lang is meant to be a stand in for Tony Blair, but the film never uses that to take obvious potshots at either the Brits or the Americans.  It does do a lot of questioning about the British involvement in our torrid affairs over the last couple of decades, but in a way that enhances the mystery instead of turning it into a political thriller.

The look and feel of the film almost recalls a haunted mansion caper with it's slightly off characters and perpetually gray surroundings.  It almost becomes a joke how dark the film is, as most of the major scenes either take place at night or under a heavy cover of clouds.  I appreciated the sub-Gothic look of everything and when accompanied with the terrific score by Alexandre Deplat The Ghost Writer made me giddy at times through sheer force of mood.

The acting you can mostly take or leave though, with Pierce Brosnan's performance being the only exception.  The quirky twists of the supporting characters didn't really rub off on Williams, McGregor or Cattrall and none of them really left a strong impression on me as people.  McGregor is determined, Williams is withholding 'something', and Cattrall is just a shade away from fun deviancy.  BUt Brosnan wanders through the film like a wounded puppy dog, not knowing how he got into this situation and generating a lot of empathy with his big sad eyes every time a new news story broke out about the scandal.  Brosnan made a great James Bond, but since he's been freed of those shackles he's turned in some more remarkably solid work as an actor.

The Ghost Writer is a good way to spend an afternoon if you're looking for a spectacularly done thriller, and given how dumb most films have been lately, it's a welcome break from the norm.

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The Ghost Writer (2010)

Directed by Roman Polanski.
Written by Roman Polanski and Robert Harris (based on Harris' novel The Ghost).
Starring Ewan McGregor, Pierce Brosnan, Olivia Williams and Kim Cattrall.

Posted by Andrew

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