Friday, March 12, 2010

Film Review – The Ghost Writer

Writer: Roman Polanski and Robert Harris, based on the novel by Robert Harris
Director: Roman Polanski
Producer: Roman Polanski, Robert Benmussa, Alain Sarde and Timothy Burrill
Cast: Ewan McGregor; Pierce Brosnan; Olivia Williams; Kim Cattrall); Tom Wilkinson
Political Thriller, 2 hours 8 minutes

We all know about the mess Roman Polanski’s in right now. He’s currently in house arrest awaiting possible extradition to the U.S. for a decades-old case involving unlawful sexual intercourse with a minor, which in Californian law is also called statutory rape. It’s sometimes difficult to discuss his situation even-handedly without people overstating their case in either direction. There was a documentary made about him recently Roman Polanski: Wanted and Desired by Marina Zenovich which gives useful background information on the whole sordid affair.

In any event, this albatross around his neck makes it difficult for people to like him or his films. We want to like our artists and entertainers, even though logically there is no connection between personality and talent. Say what you want about Tiger Woods, the man can play golf. Lots of talented people are jerks, and lots of nice people have no talent. But we want to believe otherwise, which is why people who worshiped Michael Jackson turned a blind eye to potential indicators of pedophilia, whereas people who were convinced he was a diddler find it hard to listen to him.

But whatever you think of Roman Polanski as a person, there’s no denying his immense talent as a filmmaker. The Ghost Writer is another very strong film from a master.

Ewan McGregor plays a writer hired to ghost-write the memoirs of a former British Prime Minister played by Pierce Brosnan and loosely based on Tony Blair. As he begins writing, the PM becomes embroiled in a scandal that could expose him as a war criminal for sanctioning the kidnapping and handing over of terror suspects to be tortured. The unnamed writer (McGregor) gets drawn deeper into a puzzle that he slowly pieces together.

Anything sound familiar? The Canadian Prime Minister right now is facing similar accusations after Richard Colvin and other diplomats revealed that the Canadian government under Harper knowingly handed over prisoners to be tortured. The Afghan detainee inquiry was so embarrassing that Harper prorogued parliament for the second time in the space of a year to avoid further embarrassment. He still refuses to release uncensored documents to the inquiry, thus violating the Canadian Constitution. Unfortunately, our Prime Minster is much more slippery than the one in the film, and our Canadian public more compliant and manipulable.

The Ghost Writer is a timely and relevant story. Not only is the direction by Polanski very assured, but the writing he did with the novelist Robert Harris is also excellent. Only at the end does the writer do something unnecessary and inexplicable. The cast is uniformly superb, especially Olivia Williams as the Prime Minister’s wife. Polanski throws in some interesting cameos from Timothy Hutton, James Belushi, Eli Wallach and even his daughter Morgane Polanski. The score by Alexandre Desplat resembles some of the greats from the classic noir films of the past.

I did find it a little odd and distracting that much of the dialogue was softened. It was glaringly obvious to me that all of the uses of the word “fuck” were dubbed over to safer words like “damned” “shit” or “sod off.” It’s a little ridiculous in this day and age that a language can get a film a Restricted rating when young kids swear far more than most adults I know.

You don’t have to be political creature to enjoy this film. The protagonist himself is hired precisely because he is an apolitical blank slate. His discoveries could be those of any Hitchcockian leading man. It is true though, that those fans of George W. and FOX “News” will find this film objectionable. That’s always a good sign.

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