Monday, March 8, 2010

Review: The Ghost Writer (dir. Roman Polanski)

Auteurism strikes again! I'm not 100% certain, but I'm pretty sure this movie can only be enjoyed by people who already like Roman Polanski. Lucky for me, I really like Roman Polanski.

More after the jump...

That said, those positing this as some sort of "return to form" for the director are really far off base. I haven't seen all his films (hell, I haven't even seen Rosemary's Baby...yet), but I'd be shocked if there were one this silly in there. He used to have this real knack for finding tension and drawing it out without being terribly obvious about it, but here we have characters, apropos of nothing, say things like "funny thing about that death...never seemed like the suicide type." As if the guy washing up onshore at the very beginning of the movie, mixed with the very thriller-y (not the Michael Jackson way) score, didn't make it abundantly clear that something was amiss.

And yet, the movie's a blast. I never knew what was coming next (partially because most of the revelations seems fairly banal), and it fits nicely in with Polanski's common themes of claustrophobia, almost supernatural forces turning against you, and that in spite of one man's best efforts, evil will always exist. I'd say the biggest strike against it is that the weight of the story never really comes to bear; not to hold Polanski's earlier work against his current, but in Chinatown, there's a definite moment at which a thoroughly entertaining throwback to detective movies of the 40s becomes something far more sinister. The Ghost Writer presents similar opportunities, but Polanski never really takes them; and further, the film would probably be better if he had. The ending (more on this in a spoiler section) goes a long way towards it, but it's too little, too late for the film as a whole.

It should be restated, though, that the film is quite an enjoyable watch. The cast is uniformly excellent even Ewan McGregor, perhaps the most thoroughly mediocre actor of the last decade, seems a little engaged. Pierce Brosnan feels like he's really coming into his own, post-Bond, Tom Wilkinson shows up and is really great at a role seemingly only Tom Wilkinson can be great at, and hey, even Eli Wallach gets in on the fun.

But you know who's really great? Olivia Williams. It helps that she has by far the film's most compelling character, but I continue to be astounded that Williams doesn't get more work than she does. Dealing with a layered character like the one she has is tough, but not only does she make each layer compelling, it feels like a cohesive whole. I know this is hackneyed film reviewing, but if this were released later in the year, there'd be no question that she deserves an Oscar nomination.

Here I want to talk about the ending, which has nothing to do with that picture below, but by all means, spoilers upon spoilers follow.

When I first heard that the title of this film changed from The Ghost to The Ghost Writer, I, now there's a title people will actually understand (granted, now instead of mistaking it for a supernatural Patrick Swayze movie, they'll just mistake it for a supernatural Nic Cage movie, so it was kind of a lose-lose proposition going in). However, having seen the film, I really wish they'd kept the first title.

I hadn't even thought about it until the end credits rolled, but Ewan McGregor's character is never named in the film; he's credited simply as The Ghost. And sure, the film takes rather awkward moments for McGregor to introduce him as such (typically by saying "I'm The Ghost...that is, the ghost writer"), but the ending puts this title in a whole new perspective; The Ghost simply vanishes. Further, by having no real impact on the plot he ends up uncovering, it almost feels like he was never really there. The ending really stuck with me in a way that surprised me, from Polanski's framing of it - The Ghost literally walks out of the film, vanishing from it - to the sheer fatalism of it; regardless of whether or not Polanski had directed either film, I'd still find myself comparing it to Chinatown. Both feel equally hopeless, recognizing what Polanski must see as the inability to exact justice in a world determined to be evil.

Which makes it a pretty remarkable ending, and it strengthens the film considerably. Not entirely past its own silliness, mind you, but...considerably.

The Ghost Writer is out now in...apparently everywhere.


Anonymous said...

May contain Judicial Spoilers

Some may find Polanski’s latest movie "The Ghost Writer" to bear no resemblance to reality, or to his current situation, but this isn’t true since certain aspects mirror Roman Polanski’s own demise in America in 1978, which was not all his own doing.

In the movie there are two ghost writers, who never meet, because the first one dies, before the other arrives. Both are linked by the same manuscript, the same people, the same location, the same corruption, the same cover-up, and the same set of circumstances which seeks to silence and kill them for exposing corruption.

In the movie the first ghost writer perishes under strange circumstances much as Roman Polanski did In America by flight by the end of January 1978 due to Judicial & Prosecutorial Misconduct against him.

Just like the movie, and in reality, a second victim of Judicial corruption exists, who experiences what Polanski experiences - in the same Santa Monica Courthouse years later.

In reality, the Judge in the second victim's case has was promoted to the California Court of Appeals by the former California Governor on police brutality day, just as Jay S. Bybee, who signed the Torture Memos for the Bush Administration, was promoted by the former President to become a judge on the 9th Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals in 2003.

In the movie “The Ghost Writer” a Harvard Professor is linked to the CIA, just as Jay S. Bybee by signing the Torture Memos for the Bush Administration is affiliated to the CIA.

Bybee also wrote for Harvard an article “The Tenth Amendment Among the Shadows: On Reading the Constitution in Plato’s Cave, 23 HARV. J.L. & PUB. POL’Y 551 (2000)

As Polanski and another person has been victimized in the shadows of the same Courthouse, by Judicial Misconduct who have never met, but yet whose paths are inextricably crossed through the Judicial corruption they encountered there, Polanski’s claim of Judicial Misconduct is strengthened further, since the Santa Monica Court’s exploitation of two different sexual assault cases, illustrates how the Court has engaged in a double standard which depends on who the perpetrator is – i.e. foreign born Roman Polanski or a Santa Monica College, California State employee who is being assisted in covering up his crime of sexual assault- by corrupt police, and the Court itself.

In reality the second victim of the Santa Monica Courthouse sued but instead of any quick resolution, and apart from two rays of light of two precedent decisions, she has been slowly tortured by the endless litigation for nearly 12 years, in addition to being sexually assaulted, framed by the police and beaten up, and not to forget falsely arrested.

On January 11th 2006 Judge Jay S. Bybee of the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals, who had signed the Torture Memos for the Bush administration years earlier, wrote a decision in the 9th Circuit U.S. Appeals Court, that has been used by the County of Los Angeles and the lower Federal Court to terminate the second victim’s civil rights case which does include the Santa Monica Judicial misconduct against her, the staged hearing, the police brutality in his courtroom in retaliation for reporting police corruption, suppression of her sexual assault complaint against a college instructor.

Polanski’s movie "The Ghost Writer" warns writers and viewers to not look for the truth, or expose facts that Officials do not want you to expose, because if you dare expose those political facts, or if you dare to report that you were sexually molested from behind by a Santa Monica College photography professor in his class, or if you dare to report Police corruption or Santa Monica Judicial Misconduct you may end up a ghost of yourself, and dead upon arrival.

In other words there is no guaranteed happy ending if you are blowing the whistle on corruption, with those in power wanting the corruption to remain under wraps. This view is not nihilistic it is realistic.

Anonymous said...

I couldn't get past your opening paragraph. I mean obviously you don't know a fucking thing about Polanski. Silly? Have you seen The Tenant? Have you seen The Fearless Vampire Killers? This is a worthless blog and I hate that the Internet even allows me to find you.

Scott Nye said...

Anonymous 1 - That is certainly...a theory. I think the specifics might be a bit of a stretch, especially since the film originated as a novel, but the overarching viewpoint is definitely there.

Anonymous 2 - I think I admitted that I haven't seen much of Polanski's work, so I may have spoken out of turn by suggesting that Polanski's prior work couldn't possibly be as silly as this. Even reflecting upon what I've heard of some of his other work, I realize that's a pretty false statement. Nonetheless, I do think it pertains to the kind of work many are referring to when they say The Ghost Writer is a return to form.

b said...

dude i just started a screenplay about this enormous orphanage in canada where most unwanted (AND UNNAMED) babies go and live their lives working in uranium mines, turning crazy and/or hateful. its gonna star a bunch of fugly people and me and halle barry.

me and halle berry will at first attempt to rescue the orphans, but then we will meet them and realize the impossibility of ever reintroducing the mutant nameless back into humanity. we will attempt to comfort ourselves with crazy Monster Ball sex. it won't work at first. but we will keep trying.

b said...

also, i just saw this. totally disagree with your opinion of Wilkerson. Loved him in MICHAEL CLAYTON. he just can't sell a stuffy Ivy League type. probably not entirely his fault: that part was written absurdly broad...

I do like your point about The Ghost though. Ewan never seems entirely human, has no family ties, and very strange motivations, ie bicycling out into nowhere to talk to old fisherman-types. there's more here than meets the eye