REVIEW: The Ghost Writer

THE GHOST WRITER
128 Minutes // France-Germany // Summit Entertainment
dir. Roman Polanski
Saturday, March 6th, 2010 – AMC Yonge and Dundas
starring: Ewan McGregor, Pierce Brosnan and Olivia Williams.

Being slapdash is seldom a problem for political thrillers, but this is where the problem tends to lay for the majority of them; they exhaust their resources within the first half of the film, so they try to comb over the second half with reiterated knowledge and the whole film becomes a dormant lesson in redundancy. Here Polanski finds balance between being tacit with the politics that initiate the story as well as facilitating another driving force on a more personal and less political level in Ewan McGregor’s turn as a contumacious man known only as The Ghost.

From the opening scene we get a briefing on The Ghost and the world around him; a world where there are always greater forces at work and nobody is secure. This is aptly demonstrated when the head editor for the company publishing Adam Lang’s memoirs — the work The Ghost is meant to tidy up over the next month — in question is presumed fired for no explicable reason. After this meeting, our ghost is pummeled outside of his apartment for unknown reasons (though we can lucidly speculate) and the perennial downward spiral our protagonist is faced with meets it inception.

There have been films that hold back on naming their lead characters in hopes of ascertaining a simple connection between viewer and character; their goal is to create an easier connection because names hinder complete identification. However, it’s only in retrospect that you acknowledge how perfectly Polanski presents this emblem. You swear you know The Ghost’s name and you even look it up on the internet because there has to be a name, you heard it in the movie. No, you never did. And it’s because you’re so certain that you know this man on a first name basis that the construction of this age old writing ‘trick’ is most potent. Plenty of films before are bereft of conversation because they feel that’s the best way for the view to identify themselves with the man or woman with no name, but Polanski displays the complete opposite. The only reason that this film progresses is because of dialogue and interaction. It’s with this that the viewer will couple themselves with the lead character from the get-go and by the final scene, the two separate parts will be viewed as one.

When The Ghost is welcomed into the abode of former British PM Adam Lang (Pierce Brosnan), something seems amiss. Be it the uncertain behavior of the author, the vision of having four secretaries shoved into an air tight room to deal with Lang’s personal effects in a home with umpteen larger rooms or the noirish backdrop — visualized by Pawel Edelman and composed by Alexandre Desplat in some of their finest work — that Polanski allows his plot to simmer amidst for its entirety, you will seldom find yourself in a comfort zone throughout the duration.

However, Roman Polanski does well in incorporating a well prescribed dose of witty humor. His ability to ease off tension with lines like “You think they’re going to drown you? They can’t drown two ghost writers” and the plethora of sexed-up cacophony provided by Olivia Williams (as Lang’s wife) or Kim Cattrall (Lang’s mistress/secretary… and it’s no secret) in any given scenario does make this an easier elixir to gulp down in juxtaposition to one-note political thrillers of the past (Heartbeat Detector for one of the more random comparisons I’ve ever made).

Then, of course, the story begins to unravel seem by seem, Adam Lang disappears for large portions in stretches, peculiarities obstruct clarity and swarm running time and the whole feature – while remaining palpable on its most rudimentary of levels – elicits sheer reconditeness. And it’s merely because Polanski appears to enjoy sustaining an esoteric sensation that this film doesn’t achieve its full potential. Especially frustrating considering the Scooby Doo-like wrapping up of the meaning behind all of the events that transpires in a poorly built to climax. It’s almost too conclusive for its own good.

On its most elementary of levels, Polanski’s latest expresses a macabre philosophy: no matter how pragmatic we may be, we will never experience pure catharsis; we do not control what happens to us and whatever freedoms we may have can be striped away as easily as paint from a car. Although it has glimmers of hope that are gingerly dabbed throughout the story, these moments pale in comparison to the opulent bleakness that permeates nearly every frame.

The ending will leave you unsatisfied because you’ve related to this character through the poor hand he’d been dealt and the trials and tribulations he’d dealt with. This will certainly leave many with a foul aftertaste, but then Polanski has done his job correctly: when have we ever been completely satisfied? It is better to leave your audience with something they’ve known and felt before rather than feign a sense of security when we all know that the world we live in is not? It’s up to you to decide, but I, for one, appreciate the density of Polanski’s latest. Consider this his best in decades.

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