Thursday, August 19, 2010

Review: The Ghost Writer (Roman Polanski, 2010)

The Ghost Writer is only Roman Polanski's second, and potentially final project since his Oscar victory for The Pianist back in 2002. Starring Ewan McGregor, Pierce Brosnan, Olivia Williams and Kim Cattrall, The Ghost Writer premiered at the 60th Berlin Film Festival, where Polanski picked up the Silver Bear for his excellent direction. Based on the novel, The Ghost by Thomas Harris, it drew some attention at this years Sydney Film Festival and has been praised with positive reviews. A very taut thriller, it follows an unnamed British ghost writer (Ewan McGregor) hired to complete the memoirs of former British Prime Minister Adam Lang (Pierce Brosnan). Lang has recently been publicly disgraced by a former colleague who has accused Lang of severe war crimes, notably the illegal transfer of suspected terrorists to the C.I.A. Lang is set to face prosecution at the hands of the International Criminal Court. This controversy attracts both supporters and enemies of his crimes, and a large media hub, who settle outside his residence. The writer joins Lang and his wife Ruth (Olivia Williams) at their beach-side penthouse. He is briefed of the protocol surrounding the former Prime Minister by Lang's personal assistant, Amelia (Kim Cattrall) and given access to the notes and semi-completed manuscript to be edited into the memoirs. What is curious about his role is that his predecessor was found washed up on the beach. Confirmed originally as suicide, the death is later revealed to be under suspicious circumstances. He begins to interview Lang on his early college days to try and establish a way to start the memoirs. Lang, stressed by the allegations against his name, is sensitive of how he will be presented. As our protagonist digs deeper, intrigued by what his predecessor had found, he begins to unravel a plot that links either Lang, or his wife to C.I.A contacts, through college friend and now Harvard Professor Paul Emmett (Tom Wilkinson, in a great support performance).
The screenplay is a collaboration between Harris and Polanski, and is well constructed. Engulfing McGregor's character with controversy on all sides, it's early sequences are slow but purposeful. We are revealed to the protagonist's egoism and confidence in his abilities as a writer, but also his naivety in accepting such a troubled project. The first conversations between him and Lang work well to establish a professional bond and an unspoken trust between the men. While it seems that Lang is certainly hiding the truth behind his accusations, the outspokenness of his wife, her control over her husband and her possible role in his crimes is also intriguing. Throughout the second half of the film the pace and tension increases and it becomes a very absorbing thriller with some surprising twists. The chilling conclusion is a scathing assessment of political scandal, with all of the truths just blowing away to be forever forgotten.
McGregor is well cast in the title role. His performance is nothing spectacular but he successfully carries the narrative and is a likable protagonist. Brosnan, in an attempt to escape his image as 007, is also solid in a vulnerable role. I liked Olivia Williams' performance. I thought her maliciousness and deceitfulness were quite convincing. The films main weakness is Kim Cattrall, who i thought was awful. Her sultry, slutty qualities that are important to her character in Sex and the City continued to crack through her attempts to play a serious, professional woman. The Ghost Writer has all the conventions of a typical thriller, but blessed with the skilled wand of a man who really knows how to direct a thriller. It's far from chilling, but it is consistently suspenseful and intriguing. Alexandre Desplat's odd score is a mixture of ominous suspense-laden orchestral pieces with an undercurrent of electronic pop that i thought worked quite well. The shooting locations were also a character in themselves. The mansion, which in most cases appears as a ghostly, empty cell, is located on an island to signify McGregor's isolation amongst his shady employers. The climate was considerably overcast, often extremely windy and generally icy throughout the film complementing the scandals that drive the film. Again, this is one of the better releases so far in 2010 and while I don't see it challenging in the Oscar race this year, I think it is worth checking out.

My Rating: 4 Stars

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