Thursday, August 12, 2010

The Ghost Writer (2010)


Ghost writer (Ewan McGregor) is assigned the task of penning the memoirs of ex-Prime Minister Adam Lang (Pierce Brosnan), but is quickly thrown into the dark world of politics when Lang is charged with releasing terrorists to the CIA for torture.

"This place is Shangri-La in reverse."

The Ghost Writer is an effectively designed thriller that benefits from seasoned hands, careful handling, and swift direction. It struggles with an overbearing score, often used in random places, and a pace that would suggest more brilliance, than it really possesses.

No, if anything, The Ghost Writer is an exciting gem of a film, that has managed to find its way into a year where it can shine far more brightly by sheer association. Using this to its advantage is never a bad thing as it's able to get away with more than I could rightfully expect.

The real strength of Ghost Writer lays in the hands of McGregor, and a series of strong supporting performances from Olivia Williams, Brosnan, and even Kim Catrall. Not to mention all to quickly gone appearances from Eli Wallach and Tom Wilkinson. These cast members deliver performances that require a great deal of emotion (especially in the case of Williams), while having to memorize an uncountable number of throw away names.

Much like most political thrillers, The Ghost Writer deals with a politician who must now come to terms with his darker past. While we learn, in a manner much like State of Play, about the surrounding circumstances that lead to this dark past. All of which culminate in the great reveal for which the film has been building.

The only real downside to The Ghost Writer is that once the great reveal comes, it goes rather quickly. So that, while it is a strong finale, it is not a commanding one. It does not reach into the fabric of your mind and require repeat viewings. It merely ends with a "wow, didn't see that coming" and a passing "what next?" The journey is captivating, thriller, and mysterious, but you must lay the groundwork very well if you're intending to shock and awe.

And like a construction worker experiencing a bad case of nerves, Polanski completes the foundation for his tale with shakey plot points at best. Don't get me wrong, they are marvelous plot points. Only, these points are laid out in the most vague of circumstance, and fail to build the finale Polanski seeks.

It's visually thrilling, and worthy of your eye, just don't get your hopes up that you'll be witnessing the next great thriller. It's far from it, but worth the adventure if not for the performances alone.

With brilliant performances, and an admirable script, The Ghost Writer is one of the better political mystery films in some time. Though it struggles to build to something great, it creates something that entertains and captivates all the same. A few more fine touches, and it could have been brilliant. But, for what it is, it's a fine film all the same.

4 better thoughts:

Yojimbo_5 said...

I found it a worthy effort, with Brosnan delivering the kind of nuanced performance you always knew he could, once he lost the "matinee-idol" patina. And Williams is stunning.

I think, though, my biggest disagreement with you is the score—Alexandre Desplat's background is designed with the same sort of building-blocks of tension that Herrmann brought to Hitchcock. As such, it may be a shade derivative, but overbearing? I found it thrilling.

Anonymous said...

Nothing is more distracting than an overbearing score. I find it manipulative, done to cajole a certain emotion out of the viewers that the script fails to accomplish.

So, Kim Cattral is actually good in this? Well, I'm no SATC fan but I still always see her as Samantha... or the girl from Mannequin :)

Anyway, I'm planning on seeing it this weekend, I've always liked McGregor.

Simon said...

Kim Cattrall is pretty horrible in this, okay? And yet, Olivia Williams kicks ass.

Chase Kahn said...

Yeah, I loved Desplat's score here and found this a more than adequate ripped-from-the-headlines political thriller. A solid three-star/B effort.

It doesn't really operate in a way that commands a ton of respect and/or repeat viewings (like you said) it just executes and finds what it is really well and keeps the audience guessing.

The final scene doesn't really make sense logistically (hey Ewan, do you have a death wish or something?), but it does give us that final shot...

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