Title: The Ghost Writer
Year of Release: 2010
Date Viewed: September 2nd, 2010
MPAA Rating: PG-13
Watching a film like The Ghost Writer is a lot like the writing process itself. The idea is fascinating at first. Then we "zone in" as the story world becomes our world. Then we're not sure what to make of it as the conclusion draws near. We ask ourselves "Where is this heading?". And finally when the project is complete, we look back and admire the handiwork.
The mastermind responsible for this most satisfying thriller is famed director Roman Polanski, once again bringing the pages of a novel to the big screen. Working directly with the original book's author Robert Harris, Polanski tells a story from the point-of-view of the ghost writer himself. He is never identified by name. He is always introduced or introduces himself as "The Ghost." Clearly an homage to the many real ghost writers paid to tell stories only to have their name forgotten.
The ghost is played by Ewan McGregor and his assignment; former famed British Prime Minister Adam Lang, is played by Pierce Brosnan. Thank goodness neither actor was required to fake an accent because these two have a lot to say over the course of this story.
For the ghost, it appears to be a golden opportunity for his career. The life of Adam Lang is his most topical subject yet. As fate would have it, the original writer assigned to publish Lang's memoirs died tragically in an accident before the interviews could be completed. By the time this new ghost arrives to pick up where he left off, Lang is under investigation for committing war crimes in cahoots with the Central Intelligence Agency.
What starts out as a routine biography outline becomes anything but routine once the ghost starts to closely examine the findings of his predecessor. Lang's confessions of his upbringing and his initial interest of the political world are not always consistent with his colleagues' or family's stories. Other things appear to be too convenient to be true. The possibility that the original writer's death was no accident begins to seem plausible. Perhaps more information was uncovered than he had been searching for. As the ghost drifts into his own investigations, his reason for suspicion gradually increases until he reaches the point where he believes his own life may be in danger.
Polanski uses smart lighting to help set the tone for this mystery story. Virtually every scene is outlined by dark weather shadows or limited indoor electricity. The characters are never trapped in the dark but are always on the verge of venturing into the unknown. A perfect visual parallel to the ghost's world.
Even more impressive is Polanski taking full advantage of the 2:35:1 dimensions to fully illustrate his vision. For most scenes, the view is not quite far enough to be an establishing shot but just close enough so we always know exactly what kind of surroundings the characters are confined in and where their exit opportunities are located. Not a single shooting location is wasted regardless of its significance to the story. Movies like these are the reason why I will never watch anything other than the widescreen format again. The crowd that waits to see this film on HBO will have no idea what they are missing.
Despite having a story that's eerily familiar, Polanski and Harris always manage to find a way to keep things interesting. The filmmakers are wise to limit action/suspense scenes for when they count the most; when you least expect them. It keeps the audience biting their nails even when nothing special is occurring. They are taught early on to anticipate anything at any moment.
While the character of Adam Lang is fictional, Robert Harris' novel was inspired by the controversy surrounding real-life Prime Minister Tony Blair and his suspected crimes. Since the story is all about corruption taking place in a realistic world, this makes The Ghost Writer just as topical as it is thrilling. The paranoid conspiracy theorists that seem to dominate today's talk radio will eat this up with joy.
Roman Polanski continues to impress me with every project that finds its way into my DVD player. The Ghost Writer is one of the best of its kind and one of the year's best. Don't wait for cable. See it now.