FRANCE / GERMANY / UK 2010 Directed by: Roman Polanski Written by: Robert Harris (adaptation), Roman Polanski (screenplay) Produced by: Robert Benmussa, Roman Polanski, Alain Sarde Cinematography: Pawel Edelmann Editing: Herve De Luze Music: Alexandre Desplat Cast: Ewan McGregor, Pierce Brosnan, Jon Bernthal, Kim Cattrall, Tim Preece, James Belushi, Olivia Williams, Timothy Hutton, Anna Botting, Tom Wilkinson, Eli Wallach
Roman Polanski, a brand-name troublemaker that makes films in between his headlining fiascos and fugitive detours. Luckily, he’s pretty good at both. GHOST WRITER is both a film about a fictional depiction that draws parallel to an ex-British Prime Minister and an autobiography of a watched man that’s caught up in media frenzy.
Ewan McGregor plays the title character that’s hired to redact the biography of the former British PM, Adam Lang (Pierce Brosnan). Much of what happens to Lang – supporting torture, activities in Iraq, links to the CIA, and disorderly marriage – remind us of that cheeky Tony Blair. Even Brosnan’s mischievous grin clearly marks that suggestion.
From the beginning, the story pulls us in with a number of curious scenes. An abandoned car on a ferry and a body washed ashore. We soon find out that the victim was the original ghost for Lang. Soon, McGregor is pulled in – after being swaggered by his agent, verbally abused by an editor, and instigated by Lang’s lawyer – to complete the unfinished book. McGregor arrives on the island base (Martha’s Vineyard) where Lang hides away with his wife, staff and security, and day-by-day discovers the many layers and secrets of Lang’s background. As the story unfolds, loose skeletons are yanked out of closets, not just Lang but a lineup of questionable characters.
The story is entirely painted in the somber gray of an eternal overcast sky and sea – with occasional downpour. Lang’s residence is a fortress of Bauhaus architecture. Inside, few rooms are utilized to show the depth of the man and women living incognito. Every frame was shot with style and enough bravura to keep the story tensing along, but never pretentious. Polanski’s keen sense of human behavior dazzles us with each interaction – man vs. man, man vs. woman, man vs. nature, on and on. Sometimes, instead of closing the camera into the character’s face, the character harasses the camera, giving way to suppressed anger and exploding nerves. Some of the juiciest scenes were brought to life by Brosnan, who hasn’t had a meaty role since THE TAILOR OF PANAMA. At times, subtle gestures like when McGregor unleashes his thoughts and wanders into a voyeuristic Schadenfreude of the gardener hopelessly cleaning up the backyard deck in the seaside gust, you just can’t help but to silently applaud Polanski’s, and our own, inner child.
The story rhythmically reaches climax as it reveals more twists and turns around the many characters’ hidden gains and losses. McGregor finally puts the pieces together and, triumphantly, the obscure writer pulls the curtain wide open and reveals the wizard behind the knit and weaved conspiracy. And, just to peel back another layer of the onion, the film sees no typical Hollywood ending, and it’s handle swiftly by the maestro in exile.
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