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Rapid Review – The Ghost Writer

March 21, 2010


Roman Polanski will forever be one of Hollywood’s most notorious directors.  Unfortunately, not for his talent (which he has in spades), but for his admittedly shady past.  For this review (as is my policy in life), I will ONLY be focusing on his artistic work.  The artist’s work exists separately from his/her personal foibles and should be judged accordingly – so please no nasty comments about Polanski the man.  Let’s stick with talking about Polanski the director… 

Polanski is probably best known for three films: Rosemary’s Baby, Chinatown, and The Pianist.  All three are interesting and moody films.  His most recent film, The Ghost Writer, is perhaps most similar in vein to Chinatown (both might be considered “noir“), but to boil it down to such a simple comparison would be to do the film, its creators and its performers a great disservice. 

Ewan McGregor as "The Ghost"

The Ghost Writer is based on the book The Ghost by British writer and commentator Robert Harris.  Despite its eerie title, the film is more of a political thriller than anything else.   Adam Lang (Pierce Brosnan) is the former Prime Minister of Great Britain, currently in self-imposed exile in a plush beachside property off of the Massachusetts coast.   “The Ghost” of the title is played by Ewan McGregor, who agrees to take over the writing of Lang’s autobiography, despite the mysterious death of the previous writer (who was also Lang’s longtime aide/assistant). 

Lang is embroiled in the usual moral turpitude that plagues most popular politicians.  He has a shady policy record (which will become vital to the plot), and he is living in a house with both his wife (the understated and wonderful Olivia Williams) and his mistress/personal assistant (Kim Cattrall – in a suitably small role that shows she can play more depth than Samantha in Sex and the City). 

The movie is a taut, suspenseful treat for the eyes and the ears.  It’s refreshing to find a story and a film geared toward intelligent audiences.  Polanski doesn’t “dumb down”  the plot and the implications of his characters’ actions, and it is appreciated.  He also takes it easy on the moral compass front; his characters, in turn, seem pleasantly more realistic.  Much like the stormy, gray backdrop of the plot, the motivations and reactions of the players in this drama are at times ambiguous.  There are no “bad guys” to chase or uncover, but that doesn’t make the mystery any less interesting. 

Brosnan as Adam Lang

The acting is subtle when necessary (which is often) and Polanski manages to let Brosnan , in particular, shine in a role for which he may have been overlooked  by Hollywood insiders who only see him as a certain iconic character he has played in the past.  

Ewan McGregor, as our protagonist, has the toughest role and manages to make the most of it without disappearing under the weight of such a meaty and discerning plot. 

Ultimately, however, the film’s most intriguing performance is by Olivia Williams as Lang’s wife Ruth.   She manages to turn the traditional “wife” role into a diverse and complex little piece of origami – a work of both subtle and patient craftsmanship. 

Overall, The Ghost Writer is an unexpected treat in a season where Hollywood traditionally tries to dump its least impressive films on audiences.  It can be a wasteland out there in the theaters in March and April.  The Ghost Writer is just beginning to open up wide across the U.S.  It’s a vastly superior choice than many of the films raking in the money right now.  Check it out. 

Overall Grade: A –

One Comment leave one →
  1. March 22, 2011 7:20 pm

    Polanski is great with creating suspense but I couldn’t help but think that this should have been so much better with the talent involved on both ends. Good Review!

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