3 stars, (PG-13)
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Roman Polanski has unfortunately given his detractors ammunition. Yet the director, charged with a sex crime in 1977 (that he is still paying for), has always redeemed himself with his films. From the neo-noir classic, Chinatown
, to the harrowing Holocaust drama, The Pianist
, he is an incredibly versatile and exciting filmmaker.
His latest effort - and first film in five years - is sadly a weak return to cinema. That's not to say The Ghost Writer
is bad, far from it. It is simply not the thriller you'd expect from a director of Polanski's caliber.
The premise of The Ghost Writer
is intriguing: A man (Ewan McGregor) is hired to ghost write the memoirs of British Prime Minister, Adam Lang (Pierce Brosnan). He is then tangled up in a conspiracy involving Lang and obstruction of justice. The film has the visual flair of Polanski's early work, but little to none of the emotional depth. His film voice has regressed to the point where the movie seems like it's directed by a fresh music video veteran rather than a mature filmmaker. Having said that, it is still fun to watch.
When the ghost writer (referred to simply as "the Ghost") goes to meet Lang, you feel as though you're watching Jonathan Harker's journey to Count Dracula's castle. McGregor's character travels by plane, boat and car through stark, foreboding landscapes until he comes to Lang's beach house. It looks like a sleek, sterile prison, thus underscoring Lang's bleak existence - his rat trap of a political life. The menacing clouds hovering around his estate create a palpable sense of dread and represent those constantly watching him with vigilance (like the media watches Polanski).
The film's atmosphere is fitting for the Ghost as well. As he digs deeper into Lang's secrets, the world around him grows darker, evoking the shadowy look of Alan Pakula's paranoid thrillers of the '70s (Klute
, The Parallax View
, All the President's Men
). The settings become noticeably more claustrophobic as well. In a relatively exhilarating sequence, the Ghost is followed from a ferry to a seedy motel and finally to a private jet where he confronts Lang about the conspiracies surrounding him. This visual progression to tighter, boxed-in places is a clever motif, for it emphasizes the Ghost's growing paranoia. If only the plot were as engaging as the film’s imagery.
The Ghost Writer
is too meandering to be considered a thriller. In fact, it is on occasion so slow that Polanski employs an energetic score seemingly to trick the audience into thinking the film is exciting.
The performances Polanski gets from his cast do not help heighten the suspense either. McGregor is more effective portraying the Ghost as a walking ulcer, but his urgency and conviction never quite become our own. Brosnan is too low-key to command much attention, which makes you wonder why characters in the film are so drawn to him.
The Ghost Writer
is a minor work from a major director. However, keep in mind that minor Polanski is better than the major work of most filmmakers.