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REVIEW: Ghost Writer

Roman Polanski's return to directing is dazzling

The Ghost Writer

The Ghost Writer

  • The Ghost Writer
  • Ewan McGregor as The Ghost in "The Ghost Writer."
  • Ewan McGregor as The Ghost in "The Ghost Writer."
  • Ewan McGregor as The Ghost in "The Ghost Writer."
  • Pierce Brosnan as Adam Lang in "The Ghost Writer."
  • (Center) Pierce Brosnan as Adam Lang in "The Ghost Writer."
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I remember hearing an interview with actress Heather Graham and she was talking about a film she was doing with Burt Reynolds, in which she played a character called “Rollergirl” that never takes her skates off. Along with the interviewer, I felt the movie would bomb. Perhaps go immediately to DVD or cable.

It became Boogie Nights, one of the best films of that year.

Yet, if you told me a movie was being made where Timothy Hutton works for a publishing company, and the boss is a big, bald Jim Belushi; and Kim Cattrall plays a secretary having an affair with a former James Bond -- Pierce Brosnan -- as the Prime Minister…I’d guess it was a comedy. And probably a bad one.

But these are the people Roman Polanski got for his latest (and possibly last) movie, Ghost Writer.

There’s also the legendary Eli Wallach, who has a great small role. And one of the best actors working today – Tom Wilkinson. Nobody can play suspicious as well as him.

Olivia Williams is excellent as Brosnan’s wife, who watches him flaunt his affairs right in front of her (and she isn’t shy about commenting on that in front of others).

It’s a bit distracting early on in the movie when there’s talk of Brosnan being charged with crimes and how if he stayed in America, he wouldn’t get extradited. How could you not think about Roman Polanski, who co-wrote and directed this, and all his legal problems?

Sticking to Polanski and his filmmaking, he’s real hit and miss. He’s probably praised as much as he is because when he hits, you get movies like Rosemary’s Baby, Chinatown, and The Pianist. Now, Chinatown may be on the top of my list of best detective/noir films, but Polanski’s Frantic (Harrison Ford) is on my list as one of the worst movies ever made.

Ghost Writer is a mature, taut thriller that delves into one man's paranoia. But unlike The Conversation (which is highly overrated), this film never bores you. It’s one of the best movies of the year.

Polanski channeled Hitchcock in so many scenes (a comparison I was reluctant to make, since I recently mentioned Hitchcock in my review of Shutter Island). There’s a scene near the end, as the camera pans the crowd as a note is passed to a speaker, that dazzles.

Another scene has a wide shot of a car coming around a corner, and you’re sure a huge SUV will come up behind it to run McGregor off the road (no spoiler alert, since that never happened; it was more like O.J. Simpson’s slow speed chase).

When police are interrogated the main witness of a crime, there’s no good cop/bad cop stuff. The protagonist doesn’t smart off to the police with a smug smile. The police don’t make veiled threats. It all seems so realistic and right.

Well, that is if you get by a few of the minor flaws. Okay, one being not so minor, but I can’t get into that with out giving away a major plot point.

This was a great role for McGregor to take, and I like the fact that he plays someone that’s a drinker and womanizer, but it’s only vaguely alluded to. And when he finds certain things out, he seems to start to care about people other than himself. But like I said…this is an adult thriller, and his character traits are subtle. I could be wrong on a few of the impressions I had on him.

And just as I liked the two different love scenes in The History of Violence because they were different, the one in this is the same way. It’s not cheesy Notebook music playing, while a Burt Lancaster type kisses the woman in the waves of a beach. It’s a woman who’s come in from the rain, wants dry clothes, ends up in McGregor’s bed…and they both lay there for 10 seconds looking up at the ceiling, before she finally has to jump on him for anything to start.

Some might be distracted by the fact that Brosnan's character is so much like Tony Blair, or that the Vice President looks so much like Condoleezza Rice. And when you’re dealing with war crimes involving torture of terrorist subjects…now we’re really thinking Bush. But hey…I was able to quickly get over the fact that a rapist that hasn’t been brought to justice -- made this movie I enjoyed immensely.