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(Turfseer) from NEW YORK, NY
Reviewed on 9/10/2010...
Polanski adapts hack novelist's work to advance anti-American agenda
*** This review contains spoilers ***
I was disappointed in 'The Ghost Writer' since Roman Polanski did such a fine job with the excellent Holocaust drama, 'The Pianist'. What could have possessed Polanski to choose his material from 'The Ghost', a cheap shot novel from hack writer Robert Harris? The answer is obvious: Polanski has a grudge against the United States since they barred him from returning after he was accused of raping an underage girl back in the 70s.
'The Ghost Writer' starts off rather nicely. A car on a ferry remains unclaimed after all the other cars have driven off. We soon find out that the car belonged to Mike McAra, a long-term assistant of former British Prime Minister Adam Lang (Pierce Brosnan). Mike is found dead, washed up on Martha's Vineyard beach where Lang has been vacationing with his wife, Ruth (Olivia Williams). Lang's assistant was helping him write his memoirs and now Lang's publishing company must hire a ghost writer to help the former Prime Minister complete the manuscript.
The ghost writer (who remains unnamed throughout the movie and is referred to as 'The Ghost') is played by Ewan McGregor who arrives on Martha's Vineyard in the midst of a burgeoning scandal. It seems that the International Court at the Hague has accused Lang of ordering the torture of suspected terrorists while he was in office. Novelist Harris failed to do his research regarding legal protocol/regulations at the Hague. According to Wikipedia, "handing British citizens over to the CIA to be tortured (in one case to death) — would probably not be deemed a war crime or a crime against humanity by the International Criminal Court, as the acts were not "committed as part of a policy that is executed on a wide scale". In the DVD commentary, Harris admits he got the torture idea from watching a news report. Is this really the most original and clever idea that could have been utilized to propel the story along?
While Harris admits that Lang has some attributes of the real-life Tony Blair, he denies that his character is supposed to be a model for the former Prime Minister. Whether he's the model or not, one thing remains clear: both Harris and Polanski blame Blair for his association with George Bush, who is linked to accusations of torture of prisoners. To my mind, I always thought that Tony Blair was a liberal/progressive, but the association with Bush not only sullies his reputation in the eyes of these militant left-wingers, but turns him into some kind of war criminal. At least Harris/Polanski allow their Blair stand-in, Lang, to defend himself from the outrageous implication that he is a war criminal but the subsequent turns in the plot point to where their true sympathies lie.
McGregor's ghostwriter begins uncovering clues, possibly left by Lang's predecessor in the manuscript itself, that Lang is linked to the CIA. It appears that the CIA already is aware that there is some kind of secret code in the book, but they're either watching the ghostwriter to make sure he doesn't figure it out or allowing him to uncover the code for them. That's why so many unlikely events occur: Mike's room remains uncleaned and not searched and the Ghost finds some pictures of Lang from his days at Cambridge in the 70s, leading to clues that he may be associated with the CIA; The Ghost so easily finds his way to Emmet's house as the GPS is still programmed in the car; The Ghost so easily escapes from the clutches of two men who have been following in a car; and the assassin so easily is able to assassinate Lang despite the security protection (the implication is that the CIA makes a deal with the bitter father, who blames Lang for his son's death, allowing him access to the terminal roof).
Perhaps the weakest part of 'The Ghost Writer' is the idea that the Ghost uncovers Emmet's association with the CIA merely by googling him on the internet. Big secret! And then there's the ridiculous finale where Amelia informs the Ghost, echoing opposition leader Rycart's earlier revelation, that "it's all there at the beginning". The Ghost figures it out that Lady MacBeth-like 'Ruth' is a CIA agent and has been influencing her husband for years. It turns out Lang is merely a 'patsy' and initially doesn't accept Mike's warning that Ruth has been up no good. Later, the Ghost reveals to Lang on the plane that Mike betrayed him, by telling Rycart about Ruth.
The idiotic belief that the CIA uniformly consists of a bunch of cold-blooded murderers is reflective of the anti-American attitude in Europe today. Accusations of conspiracies are thick in the air despite no proof whatsoever. And here in 'The Ghost Writer', the CIA, in the form of a Machiavellian woman, will stoop to murder at any cost. If you are unable to refrain from bashing the CIA, it might be better to view them not as sinister characters, but more as a bunch of ineffectual bureaucrats, whose main source of 'intelligence', is what they can garner (along with anyone else) from the internet.
Due to the prohibition of Polanski being allowed back in the U.S., most of the exterior shots were filmed in Germany. Polanski manages to extract some decent performances from his actors (although Kim Cattall's so-called British accent, has some rough patches). The problem with 'The Ghost Writer' is not in its characters or even its smart dialogue. Rather, it suffers from an incredible and ludicrous plot coupled with that anti-American sensibility. Behind it all is a naive Utopian presumption that we can all get along despite the presence of international terrorism—that is, a group of people who are bent on destroying all those who don't conform to their radical, fanatical ideology.
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The best film of 2010
Judy K. Polhemus | Louisiana | 09/30/2010
(5 out of 5 stars)
""The Ghost Writer" is far and away the best film of 2010, despite the criminal and moral controversy of Director Roman Polanski. Perhaps it is these very qualities which give him insight into dark and crooked minds, for let it be declared: Dark and crooked deeds are afoot in this film.
Ewan McGregor's character--symbolically nameless in the film--replaces the dead "ghost writer" behind the memoirs of the previous prime minister of England. His (the PM's) dirty deeds come to light--a symbolic phrase representative of symbolic darkness and light throughout the film--and a firestorm of anger breaks loose at the revelation of torture the PM allowed to be used to gain information.
Who, of course, can condone torture? This is where Polanski fairly shows both sides of this controversy and the related racial and religious profiling. Pierce Brosnan's character (the PM) asks pointedly: Which airline would you rather fly--the one that pulls certain people aside for close examination or the one that allows all passengers through checkpoint to prevent profiling? The answer is, of course, two-sided--the public answer and the private answer.
So much is hidden and kept under lock and key (literally), but the deepest secret is not even known. McGregor's character discovers hidden information left by his deceased predecessor in the same room both inhabit(ed). The previous ghost writer's death was ruled accidental; the new ghost writer finally believes otherwise. Surely, the predecessor was killed and now maybe, he, too, is in terrible danger.
When he finally discovers the deepest and darkest secret, it is too late.
The acting is superlative all around, film editing is perfectly executed. Filmed in New England in a moody, misty, gloomy, almost menacing setting along the Atlantic coast, the story becomes reflective of its atmosphere: brooding, haunting, secretive, with each minute, each scene just sitting on the edge and suggestive of something imminently horrible. The great irony, as in the discovery of the torture the PM allowed, is the setting in Martha's Vineyard, the very name of refinement. But here, in its midst, is something dark. In fact, a wall-sized picture window overlooking this ominous ocean-front scene suggests the sinister watcher quality of the PM. Point: Such an excellent film must have an excellent director, so I give credit where it is due, despite that person's ugly baggage.
I was completely blown away by "The Ghost Writer," my pick for best movie of the year."