The Ghost Writer (2009)
Probably the best thing Polanski’s got going for him at the moment.
The Ghost Writer is about an accomplished novelist who’s offered a lucrative sum to re-write the former Prime Minister of the UK’s memoirs after the guy who penned the first draft kicks the bucket quite mysteriously. Being that people will do just about anything for a quarter of a mil these days, the guy takes the job and does his best to try and stay out of the recent political fiasco the P.M. has found himself in, but one thing leads to another and he finds himself tangled up in the whole mess just as bad as the rest of ‘em.
Unfortunately, this movie has nothing to do with Ghost Writer, the epically awesome show from the early ’90s (they could have at least used the theme song or even cast Sheldon Turnipseed as the lead), but it is the latest effort by everyone’s favorite pond-hopping, vigilante filmmaker – you guessed it, kids – Roman Polanski. Truth be told, I’ve been slacking all my life and haven’t exactly seen too many Polanski movies. Half-watched Rosemary’s Baby back in the day, haven’t seen The Pianist since it came out (even though I do remember it being great) and I also half-watched Chinatown for a film class because it’s so much easier to sleep in the back row when all the lights are turned off.
I am not proud of this. I will do my very best to change my evil ways, baby, and oh lordy will I write. But even with my limited knowledge about this movie or the guy behind it, I still found a good deal to appreciate.
Going off of Polanski, the dude seems to know a thing or two about making an atmospheric movie. The overall look is dreary as hell from the set-pieces to the landscapes, like it’s filmed off the coast of London during typhoon season even though it takes place off the Eastern coast of the US. It’s really something else to take in and it really complements the slow-boil pacing and classic feel of the script.
Might be talking out of my ass here considering I already established that I know next to nothing about Polanski movies, but from what I do remember seeing, the plot and tone here felt very similar to Chinatown. It’s got this old-timey vibe to it where this outsider tries to figure out a mystery and ends up opening up a can of worms that way bigger than what he bargained for, there’s a whole lot more talking than there is action and there seems to be a conscious effort to have it that way, and even the way the plot plays out was strangely similar at times.
But hey, that’s just what came to mind and I very well might have to edit the hell out of that last paragraph by the time I actually get around to re-watching Chinatown. Nonetheless, Polanski did good and while I can’t really say much for the guy’s character, it can’t be easy to phone in a movie your directing from prison and not end up with two hours of crap.
The dialogue on the other hand is nothing special and when most of the movie is folks talking to each other, trying to be sharp and all Sam Spade-ey but never really getting there, that ends up being quite a bummer. The dialogue’s not bad, it’s just disappointingly average for this kind of movie.
The story on the other hand is the real driving force of the movie, and though it took me a while to really get hooked in, it sure does pick up in the last half-hour or so. But the last five minutes are a strange five minutes in that it manages to go from “Whoa!” to “Huh?” in one awfully peculiar fell swoop that I’m still kinda confused about. Also seemed very Chinatown.
Anyway, Ewan McGregor is good as our ghost (but Ewan’s always good, even if he is still Renton to me), Pierce Brosnan could afford to tone it down as the P.M., and there’s a crap load of other famous blokes in there who you’ll recognize and they do just fine in their given roles. Interesting choice to give Jim Belushi a serious role as a bald-headed hardass publisher, but I never really expect to see him in anything ever.
All in all, The Ghost Writer started out as a low 7 but ended up on the higher end of things by the final Act. Not quite sure this is for everyone and I could see how it might bore the Twihard generation into a deep, glitter-filled slumber, but it’s good stuff and it’s worth sticking with.
And so I’m off to start the Sheldon Turnipseed Fan Club. Any takers?