by Steve Labinski
Tightly paced and well acted, The Ghost Writer is Roman Polanski's most recent
movie thriller which just barely reached the finish line before the director's
own recent legal troubles.
In the film, Ewan McGregor plays a freelance writer
hired to ghost write the memoirs of a recently retired British Prime Minister,
played with a giddy anguish by Pierce Brosnan. In time, McGregor ends up
digging up ghosts from the his subject's past, pushing him down a trail of increasingly dangerous discovery.
This movie will probably not play well in the United States, and not just because
of Polanski's own ghosts from his past. The story's motivation reveals
a standard issue collection of 20th century conspiracy theories to world power.
McGregor unearths a world where events are decided by a shadow organization.
World events are decided by a shadow organization organized by the military-industrial
complex. (Read: Halliburton) Profit is controlled through powerful corporate multinationals and enforced by the unaccountable guns of the CIA.
These kinds of plots already litter the Internet fingering the secretive Bilderburger
Group, George H.W. Bush's cryptic New World Order, or the age-old Masons.
On that level, the movie is neutered turning it essentially into a
European-flavored rehash of plot threads from TV's X-Files episodes. It would
not have been totally out of order to see the Cigarette Smoking Man appearing
at some point with a diabolical warning for McGregor.
Looking for quick and easy money, McGregor takes the job and flies to Brosnan's vacation spot on a remote New England
island. The once proud world leader is now holed up in a modern, rich looking house that offers the warmth Napoleon
must have felt on Elba.
Events turn when the International Criminal Court puts the Prime Minister under
pressure accusing him as an accomplice to CIA torture (water boarding) during
the Iraq war. Since the United States does not recognize the court's legal
authority, he's suddenly stuck blowing in the media's wind, protected in naked
view by the American government. These plot threads are difficult to take seriously.
The screenplay was co-written by Polanski along with Robert Harris, adapting it from his book, The Ghost.
Harris left a reporting career with the BBC as he turned increasingly critical of Tony Blair and the War in Iraq.
It doesn't help the film now that these well-worn canards actually have recently undergone a
high profile investigative airing in Britain with Tony Blair and his Foreign
Secretary Jack Straw resolutely demonstrating that their decisions, whether
you agree with them or not, were resolute based on their own desire to protect
the country, and that they are not chess pieces moved around by the New World
Order. But this is fiction, not non-fiction, and it's the overall drama that
makes The Ghost Writer work.
Polanski's Reality TV
Back in the early nineties, Woody Allen's own public trial by fire made headlines
when he separated from long-time companion Mia Farrow to ultimately
marry Farrow's adopted daughter Soon-Yi Previn. Precisely during all of this,
the film Allen had been working on, Husbands and Wives, went into release in
As it turned out, the high-strung movie starring Allen and Farrow
playing fictitious characters splitting up over a younger woman brought a major
new dimension to everything happening in their personal lives. Going from watching
the news to watching many of these same kinds of events in a large, darkened
movie theater eerily brought insight into the filmmaker's inner life, whether
the audience thought seeing all of this was too much information or not. This
was reality television before its official invention.
Likewise, in The Ghost Writer it is eerie watching Bosnian suddenly marooned
in a foreign country, backed into a life of exile by the pincers of an ambitious
criminal court. Are we watching Polanski's personal life unfold? Is Polanski expressing sympathy for this man and how should McGregor's
character and the audience react towards him?
Polanski's direction and pacing in this thriller is excellent, expertly following
McGregor's careful path down the secret trail of breadcrumbs. The movie easily creates and holds one's interest throughout its entire 128 minutes.
McGregor has evolved into a first class actor. He maintains the perfect frequency to the
very end, so good that the final film would not have worked so well otherwise.
Polanski even coaxes an impressive performance out of Kim Cattrall playing
Brosnan's personal secretary.
Polanski uses many of his
signature techniques recognizable from his 1974 masterwork, Chinatown.
We see an everyman stumbling into what at first glance appears to be an incidental murder, but turns out to be a deliberate coverup.
But Chinatown ends very differently.
We can see how
the subsequent forty years has changed Polanski's world view. Now, it is not
just a few powerful bad apples behind the scenes, but instead it's the United
States holding the world hostage with its idology and power.
Perhaps Polanski is resigned to seeing himself as part of the movie's dark ending.
Don't expect The Ghost Writer to maintain the timeless gravity of Chinatown.
Hitchcock's North By Northwest is a political intrigue thriller similarly driven by the same
plot device. It stays exciting today because Hitchcock saw some good
in the world.
Even when Stanley Kubrick sneaks Tom Cruise into a world
of forbidden, dangerous secrets in Eyes Wide Shut, he concludes that people
could be redeemed despite the lurid elements of society.
The Ghost Writer eventually
succumbs to its own dark views of human nature. These final statements are
what will seal the long-term fate of this movie, and probably for Polanski
- Ewan McGregor ... The Ghost
- Jon Bernthal ... Rick Ricardelli
- Kim Cattrall ... Amelia Bly
- Pierce Brosnan ... Adam Lang
- Tim Preece ... Roy
- James Belushi ... John Maddox
- Olivia Williams ... Ruth Lang
- Timothy Hutton ... Sidney Kroll
- Tom Wilkinson ... Paul Emmett
- Eli Wallach ... Vineyard old man
Release Date: February 19, 2010 (USA), February 12, 2010 (Berlin International Film Festival), February 18, 2010 (Germany),
February 19, 2010 (Austria)