Monday, March 8, 2010
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 thought...wow, 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.