Tuesday, April 9, 2013

The Ghost Writer


The only proper way to introduce the film "The Ghost Writer" is by warning the audience as what not to expect. This is not a fast action-adventure film with over the top funny lines. Nor is it rife with snide comments amusing plot-twist, and long loving sex scenes. I couldn't say "The Ghost Writer" is devoid of sexual tension, or sex for that matter. What The Ghost Writer does, is to pay homage to Alfred Hitchcock, filmed in the style that is distinctive of Roman Polanski and executed masterfully by Ewan McGregor, uncharacteristically by Peirce Brosnan, and stereotypically by Kim Cattrall. Olivia Williams and Tom Wilkinson add levels of deception and confusion that all in all, make it an exceptionally smart direct story by Robert Harris. If you are looking for an old time, Alfred Hitchcock type story, with all the detail, nuance, and background music that critics consider his famous trademarks, then perhaps this film is for you. Warning, "The Ghost Writer", is detailed, logical, and if one pays attention, one will reap the benefits of figuring out this far-reaching international political thriller for one’s self.

After the death of Mike Mcaran, the original ghostwriter for former Prime Minister Adam Lang who is a fictionalized Tony Blair type of character, Ewan McGregor's agent talks him into taking on the job as a replacement. A quick meeting between the editors, Lang's lawyer who is played by Timothy Hutton, and ghostwriter Ewan McGregor, only known as the Ghost, or "man.” The meeting results in McGregor's hiring as a replacement for the seemingly irreplaceable dead ghostwriter. Brought to a Martha's Vineyard - like island off the coast of England, where Lang is working on his memoir, secluded, guarded, in a building whose architecture is modern in design however, utilitarian psychologically, and bunker like. The Ghost meets Amelia Blye (Kim Cattrall) who as the name implies, is a hard-core assistant and at the same time, she is at her sexy best. You find out later that there is an affair going on with her boss, Lang (Brosnan). Lang's wife Ruth (Olivia Williams) seems well aware of this liaison between the two. Lang wrote the original memoir, and has it under lock and key. Sitting down and reading the manuscript, the Ghost finds that Lang's first draft is tedious and lifeless. Realizing that he has his work cut out for him, he settles in to do the job. Looking up from his papers, the Ghost sees Lang's wife Ruth come to the door, and they go for a walk. Walking along the beach, the two talk, and the Ghost gets a better insight into Lang's wife, who is used to having authority over her husband, and feels that she is losing that authority to her husband’s assistant. Pay attention to all the conversations that take place in this film, as they are all acutely meaningful and add detail upon detail into the story.

Lang is returning to the island, and the group goes to meet him, the Ghost tags along, and eventually meets Lang before they drop him off at his hotel. So far, everything is mundane, yet you know that below the surface lurks some incredible secret that will rise to the surface as we earn the right as an audience to go along the journey with the Ghost and break down the underlying truth while working on the memoirs. "The Ghost Writer" explains to Lang how this process works. He, the ghost, will interview Lang and then tie in linking sentences as he imitates Lang's voice. The goal the Ghost says is to show the Prime minister as a man, cut off by the bureaucracy. How he feels hated, or loved by his people. They start the interview and begin rewriting Lang's memoir. At this point, things go awry, as a former secretary Rycroft (Robert Pugh) is leveling charges against Lang. The charges are that under Lang’s administration he allowed torture to happen in his country knowingly. Do these events sound familiar? Drawing up a publicity plan, Lang leaves for Washington where he knows he has strong support. He leaves Ruth and the Ghost on the island to work on his book. The Ghost, now living in the complex is not only delving deeper into information left hidden by his predecessor, and delving deeper into Ruth, both emotionally and sexually. In doing so, the Ghost uncovers the possibility of the murder of his predecessor and that the CIA has a larger hand in British politics.

Needless to say, there is a conspiracy going on here and the Ghost will figure it out. In the meantime, he is chased, threatened, and isn't sure what side he is on. Polanski uses the architecture, camera angles, lighting that sets a gray mood, but to give the audience a weight, and fog, or a cloud hanging over the characters. Give the plot some time to build, as Polanski is deliberate in how he tells this story, and McGregor is extremely precise in his acting. All dialog in "The Ghost Writer" are crucial, and every scene gives subtle clues that lead to the reveal. Unfortunately, in this day, and age the big reveal is rather pedestrian. The beauty of this mystery is that Polanski hides the clues in the open and refers to the clues often enough to break open the mystery. If this story came out say perhaps 20 years ago, or even 10 years ago, the surprise would be more shocking than it is today. In a way, "The Ghost Writer" is a reflection of what is going on in the backs of our minds politically and even that this story is purely fiction, we wouldn't be surprised if it were true. Ultimately the audience may be let down in the end, only because we are less innocent, that we were before the cold war. "The Ghost Writer" is not for everyone. However, it is for those who like to see terrific photography, good pacing, subtle acting, and a story that makes you earn the right to discover the truth that awaits at the end.

Movie Data

Genre: Mystery, Thriller 
Year: 2010 
Starring: Ewan McGregor, Pierce Brosnan, Olivia Williams, Kim Cattrall
Director: Roman Polanski
Producer(s) Robert Benmussa, Roman Polanski, Alain Sarde 
Writer: Roman Polanski & Robert Harris for screenplay & novel   

Rating: PG-13
Running Time: 128 minutes
Release Date: 3/19/2010