Monday, December 13, 2010

The Ghost Writer (2010)

A ferry pulls into a port in a Massachusetts town. Security is ushering cars around a empty, locked BMW that's parked at the front of the ferry gate. The sky is completely grey, and the harbor wind blows with the sticky mist of ocean spray. Further down the shore, a body has washed up on a gloomy beach. He is the former ghost writer for former Prime Minister Adam Lang, and now the new ghost writer (Ewan McGregor, in a role credited only as "The Ghost") has been hired to finish Lang's memoirs. But as news breaks that Lang is being charged with war crimes from his time in office, particularly in relation to Iraq, the Ghost discovers that the truth is more than just dangerous, its deadly.
This is how Roman Polanski's new thriller The Ghost Writer (or The Ghost, as it's known everywhere else in the world) begins. And from this thrilling beginning, the film never lets go, keeping the tension high through all the various twists and turns that the story goes through. And its a doozy of a story, with Lang being an obvious allusion to former Prime Minister Tony Blair. There's also a theme about British foreign relations that reminds the audience that Britain has just as many issues as the United States on many of the same grounds. The film's final half-hour is the real reward: a non-stop thrill ride that doesn't rely on physical explosions or car chases, but rather the unraveling of everything in ways that had my jaw dropped all the way to the final shot.
The acting in this film is one of the best ensemble performances of the year. Ewan McGregor does a terrific job as a writer in way over his head, and prevents his character from being more than just an exposition machine. Olivia Williams (whom I know best from the cancelled-before-its-time Dollhouse) is stunning as Lang's wicked-smart wife, a woman who knows exactly how to get what she wants by dangling information without any legitimate promise of divulging it. And Pierce Brosnan delivers a powerful and restrained performance as the icy, chilling Lang. Brosnan, most famous for his stint as James Bond (Goldeneye to Die Another Day), hasn't always picked the best vehicles for his talents, but here he showcases it with brilliant work. He steals every scene he's in, and considering the cast he's with, its quite an achievement.
Then there's Polanski's direction. In my film class this past semester, we had a Polanski mini-festival with Chinatown, Rosemary's Baby, and The Pianist. What I love about his direction here is that, in the 42 years since Rosemary's Baby, his style is still very old-fashioned, and I mean that in the best possible way. Polanski shoots the film like an old master, using dark colors to give everything a sinister and foreboding aura and staging everything so that it always feels as if something is hiding in plain sight. Also impressive is how Polanski created a spot-on New England town in Germany (Polanski, if you haven't heard, is in exile from the United States thanks to an outstanding arrest warrant, and therefore can't actually shoot in Massachusetts).
The Ghost Writer is a magnificent political thriller guaranteed to keep you on the edge of your seat. Hopefully, after sweeping the European Film Awards, Oscar voters can find a place to nominate and recognize this film.


Abigail said...

I have been meaning to see this! Thanks for the reminder to bump it up on the Netflix queue!

Jason H. said...

Please do! And no problem :D