Tuesday, March 16, 2010

The Ghost Writer

Damn, what a background: the flick Roman Polanski finished from jail. He got the film in the can while in was in the can. That’s all I got.

The Ghost Writer - a tense, taunt new thriller - offers up Polanski’s best movie in decades (leaving out The Pianist, of course). It teases and shocks; convinces and turns; in short, it’s the best thing I’ve seen so far this calendar year. But that really isn’t saying much, so let me explain.

In atypical American cinema fashion, the first few scenes of the film do not get explained with crummy exposition dialogue, but rather by daring the viewer to guess for themselves. We’re introduced to a sly, sarcastic writer (Ewan McGregor, never better), who makes his living as a “ghost writer” (the dude who actually writes politicians’ “memoirs”), for the previous British Prime Minister (played to sheer perfection by Pierce Brosnan).

The writer, who is eponymously referred to as The Ghost, was replaced after his predecessor “accidentally” fell off a giant ferry boat and drowned. The Ghost moves into the Prime Minister’s secluded New England home (actually shot in Germany) and dives head first into some serious copy editing.

Like most of Polanski’s work, there is far more going on under the surface. The Prime Minister is deep in controversy over allegedly allowing torture against terrorist prisoners. His wife (Olivia Williams, the best I’ve seen her) is pissed that her husband gives more attention to his assistant (the superb Kim Cattrall, yes, the sex fiend from Sex and the City can act). And the story goes round and round.

As I’ve conveniently hinted at with my annoying parentheses, the acting in The Ghost Writer makes the movie. The leads all play their parts to utter brilliance, but look closely for some knockout supporting roles. Look there’s Jim Belushi (!) as a fast-talking publisher, Timothy Hutton as a sleazy lawyer, Tom Wilkinson as a shady businessman, and the great Eli Wallach as the neighbor who knows all.

The Ghost Writer is a very good movie, but I can’t lie, the end falters pretty badly. It doesn’t completely ruin the flick but without giving anything away, let me just say that a character does something that is so against their character’s sensibilities, that it makes you think: “Oh right, I’m watching a movie.” Again, by no means a total buzz kill. I mean come on, the dude did finish the movie from jail. A-

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