The Ghost Writer

“The Ghost Writer” is a subtle, entrancing film that grips you with a feeling of unease throughout. There are no whizz-bang moments or rollicking car chases, but instead taut, sometimes painful dialogue and well-constructed atmosphere that are far more exciting than any explosions. The grey color palette and (gently) ominous score create an eery, unsettling tone that set the stage for a plot that is not overly intricate (with no glaring MacGuffins), and an easily understood and interesting plot. One of my biggest problems with political thrillers in general is that things get way to complicated and contrived that it just doesn’t even matter what is going on anymore; this never happens in “Ghost.” The performances from Ewan McGregor and Pierce Brosnan were impressive, but Olivia Williams as the dirty politician’s long suffering wife is a particularly notable, and it deserves attention.

The quality of Roman Polanski’s work here is once again top-notch with The Ghost Writer. Pierce Brosnan and Ewan McGregor are very well-matched against each other as fictional former British Prime Minister Adam Lang and a ghost writer who has been brought in to spice up Lang’s memoirs. The topical plot revolving around Lang’s public criticism due to his actions in office is well-plotted, and Polanski does an excellent job building the suspense of the film. Olivia Williams plays Lang’s wife, and she has many of the best performances. Similarities between the two and Tony and Cherie Blair have been noted, but this is more than mere aping by Brosnan and Williams. The Boston setting (by way of the German island Sylt) contributes nicely to the moody atmosphere. The film may not end in the most shocking manner imaginable, but it ends well, resulting in a thrilling and well-acted political potboiler.

The trouble with being a great director is that people will always try to compare your new work to your greatest successes. This film may not be Chinatown, but it is a highly entertaining, atmospheric, adult mystery thriller. This is not an action thriller, but in the hands of a master craftsman, even the simplest moments are full of tension, and often humor.

Roman Polanski has proven once again that his talent as a director and writer is formidable. While not perfect, this movie is both suspenseful and understated. Polanski goes for atmosphere and plot instead of the action fireworks and special effects we see in many “suspense” movies today. The suspense is built slowly by a true master of the genre, with a subtlety and simplicity that is refreshing. The end result is a fascinating viewing experience without the exploitation of the audience that we find in so many commercially made movies these days. Comparisons with Hitchcock are inevitable.Indeed, there is much in style and trappings that strongly remind me of Hitchcock, especially the music and the palette for color and location – this is probably the closest that anyone has ever come to comparing with Mr. Hitchcock in my experience. But this movie is not mere imitation because Mr. Polanski has also put his own unique stamp on it. I don’t blame those who would skip this movie because of Mr. Polanski’s history, but for those who are willing to overlook the history, this movie is an very good one to see.

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