Wednesday, 15 December 2010

The Ghost Writer

Ewan McGregor has been in search of a good role for 7 years. He was all sorts of brilliant in Big Fish and Down With Love in 2003 and equally satisfying in 2001’s Moulin Rouge. Yet, there’s that distinct sense that his onscreen joviality makes him an easy person to overlook when people are thinking about “good” actors. It makes sense, in that bitterly ironic way, that he gets the task of playing a ghost writer in Roman Polanski’s latest. A ghost writer, deprecatingly referred to as a “ghost” is a man who must be heard (intermittently) but never seen, one of those people who writes but is never credited. He’s given the task of ghosting the memoirs of Adam Lang, a recent prime minister of Britain. It’s only natural that Lang’s past is strewn with secrets and lies especially when his previous ghost-writer was found washed up on the shore of the island he’s currently inhabiting somewhere in the US.
The Ghost Writer puzzled me almost from that onset. Not that it was difficult to understand, it’s consistently comprehensible; but Polanski’s tone seemed immediately too cavalier even supercilious at times as if he was framing a witty social comedy and not a political thriller....a feeling that is only exacerbated when the title card appears so sinisterly at the film’s end and Alexandre Desplat's mocking (and brilliant) score keeps playing. It’s all very slick. I’m not certain that the supposed disparity in tone and form is an accurate judgement of the movie, because the more of I think of it in retrospect I think that perhaps The Ghost Writer is just a smartly executed fantasy. Something I find interesting about the film is that despite the excess of information available, Polanski is never explicit in stressing the potential theme of illusion and reality, the novel is about a ghost of a man after all. It’s probably part of his larger intent to give the audience nothing readymade, but the decision still seems odd.
The Ghost Writer is the type of film that might be even more fulfilling the second time around (even though I’m not especially anxious to see it again, in its entirety). Polanski’s direction is smooth, so smooth that I’m often moved to distrust what he shows us. Like any good mystery, though, there’s a distinct sense of fluidity as the film glides to its closing without the slightest narrative glitches. Of course, that’s a bit of a problem in itself – like that sickening sensation one gets after an especially syrupy drink. Not that it is “treacly”, per se, but Polanski is so tidy that sometimes you wish that he’d be a little less meticulous in the execution and the wrap-up. Still, it’s this selfsame fluidity that makes the performances of the main quarter all the more outstanding. Me (who grew up with a sister devoted to Sex & the City) didn’t recognise Kim Cattrall * until some time into the film’s second act. She’s altogether fascinating, donning a British accent that I can’t help but applaud. Match that against the cold contours of Olivia Williams scrupulously effected politicians’ wife. Even when her character is at her lowest she still manages to exude the cold veneer of her character. Of course, McGregor is every bit as subtle as he needs be, I’ll admit that Brosnan strikes as a bit too garish to do the role full justice, though it’s not as exasperating as I anticipated.
The Ghost Writer does come off as a bit too lithe on its feet, even the potentially shocking end which is less jarring than just vague. But, it works – sometimes too smoothly, but I’m splitting hairs. It’s a good one.

* For the life of me I cannot account for not immediately recognising Cattrall, it's not as if she looks particularly different (unless you count how youthful she comes off.)


Jose said...

I loved this one! It's Polanski fixing his own "The Ninth Gate", the sense of dread and mischief in this one is remarkable and Brosnan is all sorts of fantastic.

Maybe you didn't recognize Cattrall because she wasn't naked.

rtm said...

I'm with you on this one, Andrew, though I don't think I'm able to write a more eloquent review! I feel that despite the fine performances (McGregor, Williams & even Cattral), I just didn't love this movie. Brosnan is the weak link for me, but by no means a deal breaker.

Perhaps a second viewing might alter my opinion, but like you, I'm not anxious to see it again, either. But that ending was something else... it was truly a WHOA moment.

Anonymous said...

Catrall made another movie where she had a UK/Irish accent. I don't think it's perfect. Nonetheless, I have respect for anyone who works with Polanksi post-scandal, and points for the actresses. I kinda wanted the four leads to be in his God of Carnage, but alas.

Also, I'm loving Summit's oeuvre, from Twilight to Hurt Locker to this.

Back on topic: best part of the film - when the guard(s) follow McGregor and Williams while they're walking on the beach, Polanski's jester-like gigglish humour at its best. Worst - third act, where McGregor gets chased for so long I just wanted someone to die already.

TomS said...

I missed this one and almost forgot about it, but your review has revived my interest!

M. Hufstader said...

I was kind of "along for the ride" with this movie. I have to agree that it wasn't completely comprehensible, but I kind of let it take me wherever it wanted to go because I've got faith in Polanski. Though if I had to repeat the plot for you, I'd be damned after "ghost writer writes for bit political figure who's career's going down the crapper". But I always love Ewan McGregor, thought he was brilliant, and was actually surprised by how much I liked Brosnan, but that's just because I usually hate him, so it's entirely possible he was just "better than bad". Great review of the movie, though, I couldn't put it better myself!

Andrew: Encore Entertainment said...

jose well, now i'm even happier that you liked it. (would you judge me i said your last statement is probably true?)

ruth i do like it, though. i'm not sure why my review sounds so snarky.

paolo i love EVERYTHING about this comment. that chase was going on for some time...sigh.

tom definitely worth a look.

m. hufstader i'm with you on brosnan. he WAS better than usual, but i generally loathe him.