Saturday, March 13, 2010

The Ghost Writer

THE GHOST WRITER (Roman Polanski, 2010)

Playing a character referred to as The Ghost, Ewan MacGregor accepts a lucrative offer to write former British Prime Minister Adam Lang's memoirs in THE GHOST WRITER. Like anything that appears too good to be true, the assignment quickly proves to have its pitfalls. After agreeing to the job The Ghost is mugged and has a manuscript stolen.

The previous ghost drowned in what is considered a suicide or alcohol-fueled accident, but doubts linger about the official line. The ex-politician's assistant refuses to let the last writer's draft leave the island compound. Then news breaks that Lang (Pierce Brosnan) may be brought up on war crimes charges for assisting the CIA with illegal rendition and torture.

Co-writer/director Roman Polanski fashions THE GHOST WRITER as a '70s-styled potboiler bubbling with paranoia and conspiracy. This isn't CHINATOWN level work from Polanski, but THE GHOST WRITER still succeeds as an above-average thriller that dabbles in the political and the personal. A la LAW & ORDER'S ripped from the headlines stories, Tony Blair's actions in office serve as juicy inspiration for a plot trading in accusations of shady government dealings, but rather than delivering substantive political commentary the film is more interested in watching what happens when a group of people close ranks as external pressure ramps up.

Lang and staff, which now includes The Ghost, aren't bound by the island compound's gates, but their mental isolation from a hostile outside world yields compelling responses. Lang continues to come and go as he sees fit while those caught in the crossfire, such as his wife, rivetingly played by Olivia Williams, and The Ghost, hunker down. Both in the foreboding weather and narrative tautness, the encroaching sense of doom pushes the film along with quiet intensity.

THE GHOST WRITER can be read as a metaphor for Polanski's much-publicized life in exile, with the politician standing in for the disgraced director and the writer taking the public's place. Despite The Ghost's best attempts to uncover the truth, he's kept at arm's length from his subject. What he observes is a man who seems relatively untroubled by the storm around him and indignant about his alleged wrongdoing. Those with vested interests are complicit in covering up key points. If this depiction isn't reflective of how the director feels about his situation, then he's done a good job of leading the audience astray in such an interpretation.

A ghost writer's purpose is to tell someone else's story in that person's voice. As co-writer and director Polanski gets to speak for himself through the film, but for all of it's mirroring of real life circumstances, THE GHOST WRITER'S shrouded revelations are ever transitory.

Grade: B+

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