The Ghost Writer
Cast: Ewan McGregor, Pierce Brosnan, Kim Cattrall, Olivia Williams, Tom Wilkinson, Timothy Hutton, John Bernthal, David Rintoul, Robert Pugh, Eli Wallach
Director: Roman Polanski
"What we do in life echoes in eternity!" -Russell Crowe, Gladiator
The Ghost Writer
Review By: Matt J
The Ghost Writer is a yet another reason for audiences to believe that the legendary filmmaker Roman Polanski is still able to work his magic behind the camera. The film is easily one of Polanski’s best and it shows that the director is still in complete control and his vision for filmmaking is just as good as it was back in 1974 when he gave us Chinatown. Admittedly the film is a few notches below that classic, but The Ghost Writer is still a very solid and entertaining film and is one of Polanski’s better efforts.
Polanski’s direction is apparent in every scene of The Ghost Writer. The tone, atmosphere and storytelling have the director’s fingerprints all over them. It’s a slick film no doubt and one with an intriguing premise that will rightfully pull you in from the start. Clearly aimed at a more mature audience, The Ghost Writer is an adult thriller, one designed to satisfy your thirst for plot development and atmosphere rather than hyperkinetic action and quick cuts.
Polanski uses his camera to build tension but not in the way most directors would. By using long, extended shots and specific angles he is able to create a fairly engaging sense of suspense and tension. While this may turn off some viewers, it does get the job done. Due to Polanski’s choices behind the camera, the film has a very slow feel for a thriller but it still manages to reel you along with its interesting plot. As stated above, don’t come in expecting high octane action, quick cuts and a constantly moving camera, The Ghost Writer has none of this.
The film tells the story of a ghost writer known only as The Ghost (Ewan McGregor). He’s an innocent enough man who has been hired to write the memoirs of former British PM Adam Lang (Pierce Brosnan). The previous ghost writer suffered an all too mysterious death and Lang needs someone to finish where the last writer left off. The Ghost accepts the job and at first all is fine. Then comes the accusation against Lang claiming he is a war criminal and has approved the handing over of suspected terrorists for torture by the CIA. Facing prosecution by the International Criminal Court, Lang is suddenly caught up in a wave of controversy. Reporters and protesters flock to Lang’s mansion where he resides with his wife Ruth (Olivia Williams) and his assistant/mistress Amelia (Kim Catrall).
As The Ghost continues to write the book, he has creeping doubts about Lang. It is only when our naive protagonist stumbles onto some mysterious documents and decides to dig deeper that he realizes Adam
The Ghost goes on the hunt for more information and he thinks he’s figured out what is going on. As he uncovers more clues, he starts to realize that the gravity of the situation is far bigger than he ever imagined. The set up is Hitchcockian in the purest form.
As Polanski moves from location to location in a leisurely and unhurried manner, he builds up the suspense as we see our protagonist digging deeper and deeper into issues that he clearly shouldn’t know about.
The actual mystery that the film revolves around isn’t that shocking or jaw dropping but the story that drives the mystery is told very well. The storytelling helps keep the viewers riveted and when we do find out what is really going on, the payoff is satisfying. The political chicanery that is at play here is intriguing and will have you interested. Polanski waits a bit too long to start spilling the beans on what’s really at hand here but when he gets the ball rolling, the story unfolds very nicely.
Despite being low on action, The Ghost Writer builds suspense other ways. Through the music and editing, the film invokes a sense of dubiousness as we feel that nothing really seems right. A sense of unease creeps up in every scene. Each character that The Ghost encounters seems to be hiding something. Polanski is clearly trying to emulate Hitchcock. Through the way he frames scenes, his usage of various camera angles, his meticulously choreographed camera movements and discrete touches, he welds a great atmosphere where paranoia is everywhere. Polanski is very skilled at staging discomfort and most of the scenes are unsettling even if it is just at a subliminal level.
One very strong element of the film is the cast. Just about everyone does a terrific job. The only weak link is Kim Cattrall who seems out of place in this film. Her sometimes there and sometimes not there British accent is shoddy at best and she seems like she is in over her head here. Aside from Cattrall everyone is great. Ewan McGregor is very versatile in his role as The Ghost. He plays the role perfectly as he eases into the part and truly leads us to believe he’s just an innocent player in this far reaching conspiracy. The fact that he comes off as a true everyday man and no hero makes his predicament all the more engaging.
Pierce Brosnan plays the charismatic Adam Lang and although he does disappear for a long part of the movie, he gives a stellar effort in every scene
While the film is a pretty solid effort overall it is not without fault. One thing that really annoyed me was that the movie takes far too long to establish what is so obvious from the start. It takes so long for Polanski to finally tells us that The Ghost’s predecessor was murdered and it’s annoying because it’s so apparent, right from the start. The way in which it does tell us is also poorly done. The Ghost finds out through a coincidental meeting with an old man who is just waiting to tell The Ghost what he wants to know. In fact, there are a couple events on the film that rely too heavily on coincidence and this hurts the movie a bit.
Another poor choice is that throughout the film, Polanski creates a distance between us and characters. We never build a connection with any of them and therefore can’t really sympathize with anyone on screen. We get a very cold and distant feeling towards all of characters. I understand this is probably done somewhat intentionally but it proves to be unsettling at times.
Despite the problems it has, The Ghost Writer is still a very good film. Throw in a couple obvious references to Polanski’s real life legal troubles and some plot points that are blatantly trying to validate current common conspiracy theories and The Ghost Writer proves for a fairly entertaining ride. It is a different kind of thriller no doubt, but if you don’t have a problem with creating suspense and thrills in other ways aside from action than check out the film. A very well rounded cast, a gifted director and an intriguing story make The Ghost Writer a pretty good film.
The transfer is pretty good and I really have very few complaints with it. The image quality is consistently good and with only a few occasional hints of grain, the picture looks real good. The high level of detail and near perfect skin tones give us the feeling that this transfer is sticking true to the theatrical presentation. There’s no digital artifacts and the black levels are solid on all fronts. The picture carries a rich look and overall is very good looking.
The audio is also pretty flawless and there isn’t much to criticize. The score is great and kicks in perfectly. Sound effects come out clear and the crisp dialogue is well
Special features wise we get a lot less than I would have liked to have seen. We get three features that add up to around thirty minutes. The first is called The Ghost Writer: Fiction or Reality. It’s an interview with the author and co-screenwriter of The Ghost Writer, Robert Harris. It’s not terribly interesting but it’s only about ten minutes so check it out if you want. Next up is a feature called The Cast of The Ghost Writer. As one would expect, this is full of interviews with cast members and amounts to nothing more than a fluff piece. The last feature and the best feature is called Interview With Roman Polanski. It’s a great interview and Polanski is totally captivating and is a great speaker.
Overall The Ghost Writer on BluRay is a great package. A very well made film mixed with a great transfer makes this Blu Ray worth the purchase. The special features are a bit of a letdown but the film makes up for it. If you haven’t seen this film yet, and you probably haven’t since it was overlooked, now is your chance. If you can handle this ‘different’ type of thriller than you will find a very engaging and satisfying experience.