Published Mar 04, 2010Before seeing The Ghost Writer, I assumed that Roman Polanski's new film would be overshadowed by his current legal predicament. Now I'm sure of it. Polanski supposedly finished the film by sending notes to his editor from a jail cell and, unfortunately, the results represent a forgettable entry in the famed director's filmography.
The lax pacing and bland visuals squander an intriguing premise: a ghost writer (Ewan McGregor) is hired to punch up the memoir of former British Prime Minister Adam Lang (Pierce Brosnan), but in his research discovers a secret that could endanger his life. Brosnan is perfectly suited for Lang, a thinly veiled Tony Blair figure whose reputation has been tarnished by accusations of complicity in wartime atrocities and a suspiciously close relationship to the United States.
Ewan McGregor is also strong as the unnamed protagonist, piecing together the mysteries of Lang's past. Polanski enlists an eclectic supporting cast that ranges from the awesomeness of Olivia Williams and Tom Wilkinson to the mediocrity of Jim Belushi and Kim Cattrall, who can't quite seem to get a hold of her character's British accent.
The Ghost Writer isn't a bad film; it's somewhat involving and entertaining, but as a suspense story it falls flat. This is particularly frustrating coming from Polanski, whose work has helped shape the criteria by which we judge contemporary thrillers. The man made Repulsion, Rosemary's Baby, and Frantic yet somehow he can't create any tension in The Ghost Writer.
If it were any other genre, I would applaud Polanski for trying something new, but even less notable thrillers of his, such as The Ninth Gate and Death and the Maiden, are far better than this. At 128 minutes, the film could stand to lose at least half an hour of footage (I'm looking at you, Jim Belushi), and by the time the predictable ending unfolds, you just don't care anymore.
Regardless of how you feel about his '70s shenanigans, Polanski is a true cinematic genius. The Ghost Writer has been garnering a lot of praise from festivals and critics, and having seen it, I can't help but wonder if his supporters are giving him a free pass rather than risk having their criticisms damage his already tarnished public image. A big disappointment. (E1)