(Dir. Roman Polanski, 2010)
It's not easy to bypass the tangle of legal matters surrounding legendary director Roman Polanski and view his work on its own merits, but THE GHOST WRITER is such a fine film that it is possible to do so.
Most of the time. Every now and then I would remind myself that he edited it in confinement, but that only enhanced the tone of pure tension in which the film revels. Ewan McGregor, whose character's name is never revealed - he's only credited as "The Ghost", takes on the job of rewriting the memoirs of former British Prime Minister Adam Lang (a gruff very un-Bondian Pierce Brosnan), reportedly a thinly veiled characterization of Tony Blair.
It's a daunting task as McGregor only has a month to get the lengthy manuscript in shape, Brosnan is being accused of war crimes by his former Foreign Secretary (Robert Pugh), and there's the troubling matter that the former ghost writer was found dead washed up on the beach of Brosnan's lavish oceanfront compound in Massachusetts.
Goaded by his smarmy agent (beautifully played by Jon Bernthal), McGregor flies to that same compound and is greeted by one of Brosnan's handlers (Sex And The City's Kim Catrall) and Brosnan's frazzled wife (Olivia Williams). McGregor attempts to have a sense of humor about the situation, but is a bit unnerved when after drafting a statement for Brosnan to the press is told by a smug Catrall: "That makes you an accomplice."
After obliviously tipping off an odd man at his hotel's bar of Brosnan's whereabouts, McGregor wakes up to a media circus. Brosnan's conversations with his lawyers (including a demure Timothy Hutton) and handlers about where he should relocate in order to stay out of the hands of the law is undeniably a moment in which Polanski's real life predicament pulsates through the screen.
In a masterfully shot sequence, McGregor drives his deceased predecessor's car following the stored GPS directions and ends up at the house of Tom Wilkinson as a retired Harvard professor with possible CIA connections who denies any connection to Brosnan. McGregor has pictures that suggest otherwise, but Wilkinson insists.
Wilkinson's edgy presence evokes good memories of MICHAEL CLAYTON - another polished and pleasing thriller in the same class as THE GHOST WRITER. Despite a few scenes that drag slightly, this is a powerful and intensely satisfying film. It's the definition of a slow burner with an ending that is absolutely on fire. I was seriously blown away by the construction and impact of the final shots.
That Polanski can still make such a vital piece of cinema - one that I believe will stand in his canon comfortably along ROSEMARY'S BABY, CHINATOWN, FRANTIC, and THE PIANIST - at this complicated point in his career is no less than exhilarating. So whether or not you can separate the art from the artist, this is a must see. I
t's a great story; it has great performances (even Jim Belushi as a publishing CEO puts in solid work!), a great gripping score by Alexandre Desplat, and, most importantly great direction. Just shy of a masterpiece, and I know it may be to early to say this, but it's already one of the best films of the year.