Sunday, March 21, 2010

He's Living As A Ghost

Movie Review
The Ghost Writer (2010)

An author (Ewan McGregor) is hired to write the memoirs of a controversial former British prime minister, Adam Lang (Pierce Brosnan), and from the moment he takes the job he's referred to as the Ghost. Throughout Roman Polanski's "The Ghost Writer," the Ghost is never given a name. He is a man without a past, without any family or other ties. Throughout his work as a ghost writer, he is more often referred to as a literal ghost than a ghost writer. He is a man who might as well not even exist and who can be easily wiped clean. Ghost writers are expendable anyway and fully replaceable as this ghost is actually the successor to another one who drowned mysteriously. Whether it was suicide, an accident or something more ominous is unclear. The Ghost is played by Ewan McGregor in a performance that sets the ideal tone for the film. The complexity of the Ghost's situation and his condition is expertly realized as he unravels the muddled backstory of Adam Lang.

As the Ghost arrives at Lang's secluded beach house, he soon realizes that he's gotten himself mixed up in something bigger than himself. The Ghost's goal was to take the dry and overlong draft of Lang's original memoirs and trim it into something more approachable for readers. He wanted to include personal anecdotes from Lang and infuse the work with personality because the Ghost himself isn't much of a man for politics. Outcry about war crimes committed by Lang starts spreading like wildfire, and angry protesters stake their claim outside Lang's home. His house on Martha's Vineyard off the Massachusetts mainland acts as a fortress from the outside world; it is eerie and almost unnatural. The Ghost is first greeted by Lang's assistant Amelia (Kim Cattrall of "Sex and the City") and later by Lang's severe-looking wife, Ruth (Olivia Williams of "An Education"). Both of these women are cordial and yet have the air of being a potential suspect because in the world of Lang, everybody is a suspect and nothing is ever certain.

The circle of unrest grows as the Ghost navigates his way through this uncertain world. Based on the novel by Robert Harris, who co-wrote the screenplay with Polanski, the story works like a spring coiling tighter and tighter until it finally releases at an explosive climax where papers fluttering around never held such meaning. The tension, sprinkled with bits of dark wit, builds not out of action, but rather, out of lack of knowledge and a series of revelations. What we know is limited to what the Ghost discovers, and no bit of information can ever be taken for granted. The sequence where a navigation system leads the Ghost to the house of a man named Paul Emmett (a calm and calculating Tom Wilkinson) is haunting in its implications. A rain-soaked trek on a bike around the lonesome island and a close encounter on a ferry all leave the Ghost in an entanglement of the absurd yet dangerous. The accompaniment of a tantalizing score by Alexandre Desplat perpetuates the tone of unease and playfulness.

A lot is peculiar about the job the Ghost has agreed to, especially considering the fact that he was only trying to make some quick cash. The manuscript of the first draft can never leave a certain room, Ruth's discontent with her husband is nearly impossible to read and even the servants seem like they're up to something. There are holes and lose ends, too, spots where everything just doesn't seem to add up, and yet it's easily ignored considering the circumstances. These are strange waters we're treading in, and Polanski pulls off the feat of embedding it in realism. There is no denying the true life political undercurrents with Lang resembling Tony Blair. Robert Harris worked closely with the former prime minister in reality.

Also in reality is the current condition of 76-year-old director Roman Polanski ("The Pianist," "Rosemary's Baby," "Chinatown") who is under house arrest in Switzerland for his U.S. case back in 1977 for having sex with a minor. But hey, let's focus on his latest movie, his first in four years, the taut and intelligent thriller where political conspiracy gets personal, "The Ghost Writer." It's great.

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