Friday, March 5, 2010

A Strong "Ghost Writer"

How you feel about George W. Bush, Tony Blair and the Iraq War will color how you feel about the mystery-thriller “Ghost Writer.”

Oh, and how you feel about fugitive film director Roman Polanski matters too.

The bottom line is conservative types are not going to be too pleased with the allegations of the script, based on the novel by Robert Harris in collaboration with Polanski.

Liberals on the other hand will cheer Polanski’s efforts to get the movie done, despite being unable to film in the USA, where most of it is set, and despite having to do final editing while jailed or under house arrest in Switzerland.

“Ghost Writer” is highly critical by insinuation of George W. Bush’s insistence on going to war and British Prime Minster Tony Blair’s decision to back the war despite his constituents’ lack of support and growing indications the initial premise for attacking may not have been altogether true.

The Tony Blair-type character is Adam Lang, played by Pierce Brosnan.

Like Blair, Lang has stepped down from political office, and is in the process of writing his memoires.

A ghost writer played by Ewan McGregor is brought in when the first hired writer is found dead under suspicious circumstances on a Martha’s Vineyard not far from Lang’s beach house.

McGregor’s character is never given a name- Lang refers to him as “man-” but his name is not important. What the character has gotten himself into is.

The lure is powerful. Lang needs a rush job, and McGregor’s agent (Jon Bernthal) has gotten the fee up to $250,000 if the rewrite can be delivered in four weeks.

So McGregor flies on Lang’s personal jet to Massachusetts, drinking his doubts away.

The doubts deepen when Lang’s rosy account of his efforts to support the American war don’t quite add up. Neither does the verdict of suicide of his predecessor seem plausible.

McGregor is further bamboozled by Lang’s protective personal assistant (Kim Cattrall) and his brilliant but vengeful wife Ruth (Olivia Williams).

When shadowy figures in black cars begin following him around, McGregor knows he is in trouble. Once Ruth seduces him, he is in over his head.

If you remember Polanski’s greatest film, “Chinatown,” you’ll remember something was rotten at the very core of the mystery being investigated by Jack Nicholson.

So there is a nasty secret at the center of “Ghost Writer,” but it probably is not what you were thinking.

Ewan McGregor is outstanding as his Kafkaesque character and Pierce Brosnan shows uncharacteristic depth as his charming but mercurial boss.

The scene-stealer is Olivia Williams, equal parts sexy and dangerous. Tom Wilkinson is unusually unexpressive as Ruth’s former Oxford mentor, Paul Emmett.

The film’s weakest link is Kim Cattrall. What was Polanski thinking?

That and the fact at 160 minutes, the film is too long and drawn-out keep this from classic status, but as a thinking person’s thriller, it is first-rate.

1 comment:

  1. Wasn't a big fan of the novel, despite my admiration for Harris; but from your review of the film, it seems that Polanski has made lemonade from what I considered a lemon. Thanks for the great job, Skip.

    Allan Cole