April 19, 2010 1 Comment
The latest film from master-director Roman Polanski, “The Ghost Writer” is a taut, intelligent and suspenseful film that echoes some of his older works and a bit of Hitchcock thrown in as well. Ewan McGregor plays “The Ghost” (referred as such in the credits), a writer who is hired to complete the memoirs of a former British Prime Minister. The previous author mysteriously drowned and he has left behind a massive manuscript that our Ghost feels is un-readable and quite boring. The Ghost takes the job reluctantly (egged on by his assertive agent) and takes the long, exhaustive journey to the beach house of Prime Minister Adam Lang (Pierce Brosnan) in Martha’s Vineyard, Massachusetts.
As soon as the new writer begins work on the manuscript, PM Lang is accused of authorizing the kidnapping and torture of suspects. The story is sprayed all over the news and an indictment seems imminent. It is not a wise legal move to fly back to England, so instead, Lang flies to Washington DC for a photo-op with the current administration. In the meantime, our Ghost does some checking on his own and, little by little, realizes there is much more to Adam Lang and the death of his predecessor than he first thought. Lang has flown to Washington with his aide, Amelia Bly (Kim Cattrall) who he is openly having an affair with. Who stays home with the Ghost is Lang’s strong-willed and loyal wife, Ruth (Olivia Williams), in addition to the countless number of security around the impressive home. As The Ghost presses for information, his own life is in danger.
The atmosphere of the film blends well with the suspense — here, Martha’s Vineyard is dark, rainy and gloomy throughout (although it was filmed in Germany due to the fact that Polanski could not step foot in the United States). The home of the Prime Minister is also detached and cold, yet elegant. Cinematographer Pawel Edelman does an impressive job shooting the characters and the elements around them. The use colors, interiors and design all fall in line with the dynamics of the film.
The performances, for the most part, are damn strong. Ewan McGregor makes a fine Ghost. He is a man with no real past and no meaningful connections in his life at the moment. We see him take on this assignment that is much more than he can chew and he plays the author struggling to find answers and the truth quite well. I’m sure McGregor would have made a fine Hitchcockian protagonist, in the same manner that Cary Grant was. Pierce Brosnan makes a great Prime Minister (though made to look far too much like Tony Blair). he is affable, charming, handsome – but at the same time, we can see he can blow into a fit of rage at any moment. We can never really make out if he is guilty of the crimes he is accused of or not, which means good job by Brosnan. The few scenes between the two actors make for excellent viewing. We can’t help but feel that Lang is trying to assist the Ghost with completing the book, but that there is much underneath that he would prefer not even be mentioned.
Olivia Williams is wonderful here as Mrs. Lang. She is bitter, reilient and somewhat sexy. Her presence on screen demands your attention and I am hoping that she gets more work and greater recognition. Her silent reactions and body language are astute and she doesn’t cease to catch one by surprise. The supporting cast is also very effective. I don’t think I can ever say a negative thing about Tom Wilkinson and here, he plays the very distinguished and celebrated Harvard professor, Dr. Paul Emmett. His scene with McGregor is extraordinary and his ominous portrayal is indeed strong work. Timothy Hutton, Eli Wallach and James Belushi also play bit roles — and all do fine work. Eli Wallach plays a local trying to help the Ghost out on a gray, rainy day…it’s a pleasure to watch him work. And James Belushi – good for you! Though only in one scene, he looks great and fits the small part very nicely…a pleasant change from doing sitcom work for so long.
The train wreck is the embarrassing Kim Cattrall. Who the hell watched the dailies of this film and allowed her to continue working on this project? She is just dreadful to watch here. Perhaps it was some of the lines she was given, but she just over-acted with each line she spoke…she just over-did everything. I have never seen the “Sex and the City” stuff at all, but maybe she picked up bad habits from that…I’m not sure. Here, she doesn’t work and all of her exaggerations hurt the film. She seems much better suited for a 40′s noir piece opposite Robert Mitchum than she does trying to play naturally opposite the low-key McGregor.
All in all, a very smart looking film from the eclectic, auteur Polanski. He knows suspense and he knows how to shoot a thriller. He does not insult his viewers by using modern gimmicks, but rather lets the actors tell the story and lets the suspense build slowly. The last scene here is a riveting one and keeps you in your seat while the credits roll. Though it has some loose ends (plus horrid work by Cattrall) and has too many overt references to the Bush administration (including Halliburton and Condoleezza Rice), it remains an impressive work nonetheless by one of our great filmmakers…I must say that I am glad to see him continue adding to his impressive resume.
Film: The Ghost Writer
Director: Roman Polanski