The Sons of Katie Elder

The Sons of Katie Elder
"First, we reunite, then find Ma and Pa's killer...then read some reviews."

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

The Ghost Writer

An incredibly gifted director, Roman Polanski is nonetheless known more for his personal life than his feature films. Convicted of the statutory rape of a 13-year old girl, Polanski fled the United States and has lived in Europe and around the world since the mid 1970s.  An obviously dividing personality, but regardless of his past actions in his personal life, Polanski is a great talent behind the camera.  I've only seen a few of his movies and know of him more through reputation than anything, but 2010's The Ghost Writer sounded like an interesting premise. 

A fair share of reviews I've read took some offense to a not so thinly veiled dig at former British prime minister Tony Blair.  I shouldn't even say 'not so thinly veiled' because besides a name change, a prominent character IS Tony Blair. It takes a lot more than political differences to chase me away from a movie, but I wanted to point it out.  Some reviewers even said Blair should sue Polanski and the moviemakers for the portrayal of a character that rings oh so familiar to the former PM.  Lost in those reviews is a solid thriller that struggles at times with its destination but is aided by several strong performances and an excellent gotcha! ending.

With several major save projects behind him, a writer known simply as the Ghost (Ewan McGregor) takes on a job that will pay him $250,000 but will also be his biggest challenge. Former British prime minister Adam Lang (Pierce Brosnan) is writing his memoirs, but the publishers are worried about how the project is going having invested $10 million in the rights to the book. The Ghost accepts the job, traveling to a small fishing island community of the east coast in the U.S. to get to work.  He meets Lang's wife (Olivia Williams) and assistant (Kim Cattrall) and quickly realizes he's stepped into quite the murky situation. That's just the start though as the Ghost finds out more about the previous ghost writer's mysterious death, all the while as Lang's name surfaces in reports of illegal actions taking during his term involving terrorism and the C.I.A.  Has he bitten off more than he can chew?

This is a cold, stark finished product.  It is always cloudy, damp and raining, the sets are minimalism at its finest, and the camera isn't invasive in the least.  Polanski puts the camera in the scene and lets his actors do the heavy lifting.  But throw all those things together, and you get a movie that will interesting is never exciting.  You're curious what McGregor's writer has stumbled into, but the reveal is such a slow burn that it loses any momentum built up getting to that spot.  There were times I was reminded of an Alfred Hitchcock thriller -- especially because of composer Alexandre Desplat's score -- but something I can't put my finger on bothered me about the movie.  I was never bored, but the 128-minute run time is a little long in the tooth.

From Sean Connery to Daniel Craig and every James Bond in between, actors who have played British superspy 007 have dealt with typecasting.  I grew up watching all of the Bond movies, especially Brosnan's ventures as he took over the reins.  Since leaving the part though, we've seen less of Brosnan unfortunately.  The man can act plain and simple if he would just be given a chance.  Acting-wise, I think he is the best thing 'Writer' has going for it.  If anything though, he is criminally underused in a part that demands you pay attention to his character.  His former Prime Minister was a celebrity more than a politician, and just watching him you can see his appeal to voters.  However, the story requires him to disappear for vast stretches of time right as things are getting interesting.  So overall, he is underused, but what's there is pitch perfect.

So while Brosnan isn't in the movie as much as I'd like and the pacing is a little off, I can recommend this movie because of the acting.  McGregor is one of my favorite current stars in Hollywood, and you can always count on him to do something interesting with his part.  Williams and Cattrall are the wild cards because you just don't know quite what they are up to or what their agenda is.  If this was a 1940s film noir, Williams would be the perfect femme fatale, and Cattrall (who I'm only aware of because of Sex and the City) gives off this sexy vibe as the assistant who clearly isn't telling us everything we need to know.  Not enough for you?  Two supporting parts in the final hour come out of nowhere but work well nonetheless.  Eli Wallach (chugging along at 95 and still cool as ever) plays a man McGregor interviews about some shady goings on, and Tom Wilkinson plays a former friend of Lang's who clearly is involved in something bigger because...well..because he's Tom Wilkinson.

So what is everyone up to? What is Brosnan's Lang really shooting for, if anything?  McGregor slowly pieces everything together as to what's really happening in a twist that I didn't see coming.  I don't know what I was expecting, but I was thinking something bigger.  We're not talking Keyser Soze or Sixth Sense level twist, but it's solid.  Better than that though is the final scene which supplies a real doozy of a shocker.  It's the one time Polanski foreshadows what is about to happen with his camerawork -- very subtle though -- in a great final uncut single shot that made me jump.  Lots of potential that doesn't live up to all of it, but still a solid thriller with a great cast.

The Ghost Writer <---trailer (2010): ** 1/2 /****

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