Saturday, March 6, 2010

*The Ghost Writer*

Roman Polanski's The Ghost Writer answers the question that's tortured every sober minded person for the last ten years: why is the British government so deep in the pocket of America and her jingoistic interests? Whether you agree with the premise of my last sentence is of no concern to Polanski. He believes it, and his film's answer is meant to incite deep shivers.

Ewan McGregor plays the titular (and nameless) writer, who scores the project of his career. He is to finish the highly publicized, ghostwritten, autobiography of a former British prime minister. Tony Blair, you figure? Nope: Adam Lang (played by Brosnan, Pierce Brosnan). The previous ghostwriter, who was close to completing his manuscript, has mysteriously drowned. Before the ink on the new ghostwriter's book contract can dry, Lang is charged with war crimes by the International Court of Justice. And the CIA is somehow involved. Uh oh. What follows is a detective story turned on its head, since our detective has full insider access to his prime suspects. After all, he's being paid a nice sum to write about them.

If you can get past its quasi-Manchurian conspiracy theory rubbish (as I did), you'll find The Ghost Writer is an elegant, satisfying thriller. Where most films in the genre twist and turn with mind-scrambling abandon (bang! pow! plot twist!), The Ghost Writer unspools with grace. The thread of each plot element follows so obviously in retrospect that The Ghost Writer makes films like The Usual Suspects seem cheap and clumsy. Its aha! moments, and it has a few, feel natural and justified, not shoehorned in.

The performances range from superlative (Olivia Williams as the prime minister's wife), to embarrassing (Kim Cattrall, who must have practiced her English accent for an entire hour). McGregor plays the ersatz gumshoe with the right mixture of incredulity and gullibility, while Pierce Brosnan misleads with aplomb.

A number of the The Ghost Writer's sequences dazzle, especially in its final minutes. Its muted visual palette, which enhances the increasing menace of the plot, is counterbalanced by the playfulness of its score (obviously inspired by Bernard Herrmann). Yes, the guy's a creep, but Polanski's still got it.

The Ghost Writer
-- replete with virtuosity, yet diminished by hackneyed political intrigue -- is to be admired, but not loved.