Monday, January 31, 2011

The Ghost Writer

Directed by Roman Polanski.
2010. Rated PG-13, 128 minutes.
Ewan McGregor
Pierce Brosnan
Olivia Williams
Kim Cattrall
Tom Wilkinson
Robert Pugh
Timothy Hutton
James Belushi

The Ghost (McGregor), as he’s often called, is hired to ghost write the autobiography of former British Prime Minister Adam Lang (Brosnan). However, there are peculiarities about the job. Not the least of which is the reason he is hired in the first place. The man originally assigned to the task has suddenly turned up dead. Next, the manuscript is said to have already been written, but no one outside of Lang’s most trusted people have actually seen it. Last, but certainly not least, accusations of war crimes are being hurled at Lang. Pretty soon, those accusations turn into a full-blown criminal investigation. Like us, The Ghost wonders just what has he gotten himself into and if he can get to the bottom of it.

This is the type of move where the threat of what could be next carries the day. To this end, it gives us much more in the way of tension than action. It’s better for it. Action is a short burst of excitement and is largely visual. Tension is much more visceral and lingers longer. It keeps us interested in these people.

Because of tension, we’re vested in the exploits of our hero. With every step he takes, we fear that it is a false one and that he will pay dearly for it. What also helps is that often, he isn’t sure whether or not the move he’s making is a good one, either. Nor is he some super-spy trained in the ways of espionage with tons of gadgets at his disposal. He’s just a guy who finds himself in the midst of something enormous. To get through it, he has some ideas, but generally takes the next step presented to him.

To pull this sort of thing off, a movie has to be well written. This one is. It keeps us going long enough to sustain our curiosity. Director Roman Polanski helps by being patient. He never rushes his story and barely embellishes what little action there is. This gives it a real-world feel that adds to our enjoyment. I will have to dock TGW a bit because my initial suspicions about where the trail will lead turn out to be true. Within the first 20 minutes I guessed the answer. Luckily, asking the questions is still lots of fun.

The banter between The Ghost and Adam offers some of the movies best moments. As the Prime Minister, Brosnan gives an outstanding performance. McGregor is also strong, as is Olivia Williams as Lang’s wife, Ruth, and the reliable Tom Wilkinson as Paul Emmett. Casting wise, my one gripe is with Kim Cattrall. She gives a weird portrayal as Lang’s top assistant. Seeing her try to speak with an English accent is odd in itself. However, combined with her almost robotic line deliveries it becomes downright ridiculous.

In sum, TGW manages to overcome its shortcomings to be a wonderfully taut thriller. It’s capped off by an amazing shot to end the film. It reminds me of the director’s own classic horror film, Rosemary’s Baby. In both movies, the finale is startling because of what you don’t see.

MY SCORE: 8.5/10

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