Monday, March 22, 2010

The Ghost Writer (2010) – Review

The Ghost Writer is an effective thriller but at times suffers from an average lead performance and some resulting pacing issues in the middle. Robert Harrisnovel, to which the film is adapted from (by Harris and Roman Polanski), is a thinly veiled commentary on Tony Blair (and other world leaders), whom Harris was once a political advisor to, and as such the film makes reference to the current political climate. Much like many political films of late, this has an ambience of mistrust to it, which works quite well in the narrative structure of the film as well as the visual composition (the overly gloomy weather for instance). Just hearing the score in the opening shot is enough to alert even the most ambivalent of filmgoers to the nature of the story – something is afoot, and the viewer knows it right off. So then, the question becomes: can the filmmakers still sustain their interest during the buildup when they already know, more or less in a narrative way, what is coming – sort of. Polanski is a fantastic filmmaker, it is completely clear that this is the case just looking merely at how the film opens and closes, both shots are brilliant. But what Polanski has not succeeded in, at least to a degree that he should, is his ability to drive the narrative in such a way as to keep viewers glued to the screen and on the edge of their seats. Rather, he structures the film to sort of meander as it unravels clues to what is going on. But once the thriller aspect of the film does kick in, it is quite good and engaging. Though, it just might leave some less interested audience members behind. The film instead relies on the performances of the actors to carry the film’s middle, and they are rather strong, mostly, but not where it counts the most. Ewan McGregor does satisfactory work here, but not great work in a film whose narrative demands great work and this is really the weakness of the film. McGregor is unable to fully compel, charm or otherwise grip viewers. Kim Cattrall is also not great in a role that needed her to be better. She is not able to sufficiently convince the viewer as to the complete nature of her relationship to Pierce Brosnan’s character, which given her limited screen time and interaction theatergoers must rather gather what they know about the characters through other performances – and more to the point Olivia Williams’ fantastic performance. She is perfect in the film. She has a great talent to play off the other actors in the film and without much she invited the viewers into her world, yet she also conveys something not quite describable underneath, as if she is a façade. Brosnan is also good as he brings a lot of bravado to his character, which seems very fitting. Tom Wilkinson, in a very limited role, is also wonderful. (Similar to Michael Clayton) his performance again demonstrates his fine talent, while setting up the second half of the film – in a sense changing the whole pace of the film. Much in the same way, Eli Wallach is good in his brief scene. Alexandre Desplat (who seemingly could occupy all five best score nominations at the 2011 Oscars, he certainly works enough to do it) delivers another tremendous score which utterly fits the atmosphere of the story and is maybe the highlight of the film. It has the audience’s ear from frame one and throughout. Cinematographer Pawel Edelman also produces great work here, his best since The Pianist. Albrecht Konrad’s production design, specifically the beach house that was entirely built on a sound stage is masterful. The house with its modern over-the-top art and almost out-of-place design again clues in the audience that things may not be what they seem. Konrad also did a terrific job of transforming Germany to look like New England. The film does have an Alfred Hitchcock feel to it, from Polanski’s slowly unraveling mystery narrative to Desplats’ score that is a bit like one of Bernard Herrmann’s. The book itself almost has a MacGuffin aspect to it. While this may not be Polanski’s best, it is certainly a good film (that could have been better with a stronger lead). The film is able to enthrall the viewer with its story though its expert use of music and picture, while also  appealing to the audience on a more in depth analytical way, as it references the political climate and actions of leaders in the last decade or two. 7/10

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