February 27, 2010

MOVIES: The Ghost Writer (Roman Polanski, 2010)

A top-notch thriller filled with excellent performances.

Ewan McGregor stars as a writer (never named, and identified in the credits only as "The Ghost") hired to ghost-write the memoirs of Adam Lang (Pierce Brosnan), a former British prime minister. The Ghost's predecessor was a long-time Lang aide, and he had finished a rough first draft before his recent death; all the Ghost is being asked to do is sit with Lang for a few final interviews and polish the draft for publication.

From the moment that the Ghost arrives at Lang's sterile, high-tech home on Martha's Vineyard, it's clear that this is not a happy place. Lang's wife, Ruth (Olivia Williams), suspects that her husband is having an affair with his personal assistant (Kim Cattrall), and the news is just breaking that Lang may be charged with war crimes at the Hague, thanks to some documents that have been produced by one of his former Cabinet ministers.

So how did the minister get those documents? Is Lang cheating on his wife? And is there more to the death of ghost #1 than meets the eye?

The cast is almost uniformly excellent; only Cattrall seems out of her league. Williams is particuarly fine as Ruth Lang, whose anger and resentment are almost certainly justified, but who is clearly hiding a few secrets of her own. There are nice turns in smaller roles from Tom Wilkinson, reliable as ever as one of Lang's old college pals; Timothy Hutton as Lang's attorney; Jon Bernthal as the Ghost's agent; and Eli Wallach as a long-time local who holds some of the answers (or at least knows some of the right questions). Even Jim Belushi is entertaining in a small role as one of Lang's publishers.

I could have done without the running joke of the Ghost being unnamed; it goes very quickly from amusing to annoying. Yes, I get the point -- the ghost writer is the anonymous guy whose name no one can be bothered to ask, or remember -- but we don't need to be clubbed over the head with it quite so vigorously.

Alexandre Desplat's score contributes greatly to the paranoid mood, and is occasionally reminiscent of Bernard Herrmann's work for Hitchcock. Pawel Edelman's cinematography is lovely, filled with bleak dark blues and grays that allow Germany to pass convincingly for New England in winter. The story unfolds in clever fashion, with one especially smart moment that uses modern technology in a way I haven't seen in a mystery, and I love the way the final moments unfold.

Marvelous, highly entertaining, and recommended with great enthusiasm.

No comments: