Monday, January 31, 2011

#46: The Ghost Writer

Before we get into the rights and wrongs of this movie, let's consider this. Roman Polanski's first movie Knife in the Water was released in 1962. When he made Chinatown, the year was 1974- a year that him lock horns with Godfather-II for Oscar for Best Director. Out of the 4 other directors who were nominated that year for the award, Bob Fosse(Lenny), John Cassavettes(A Woman Under the Influence) and Francois Truffaut(Day for Night) are no more. The fourth director was Francis Ford Coppola who in the entire decade of 2000s gave us nothing to write home about while Roman Polanski gave us The Pianist. 48 years after he made his first movie, the man still knows what glue works best under our seats.

What I am trying to underline here is that Polanski's methods, like his peers Coppola and Woody Allen who in the 1970s ushered in the New Hollywood, will perenially be under surveillance. Is this new-age filmmaking too fast for him, are his subjects relevant anymore, will he able to co-exist in the new-age 3D digital techniques etc. With The Ghost Writer, Polanksi not only chooses a subject that's as contemporary as they come but also gives his special touch in putting together a nifty political thriller - a genre that's as rare as they come.

The film is a story of an ex-British PM's (Pierce Brosnan) memoirs being put together by a ghost-writer(Ewan Mcgregor). Preditably, as the ghost delves into the PM's past, skeletons start tumbling from the closet of his years as PM. What I found of particular interest is that screenplay writers Robert Harris ( from whose book this is an adaptation) and Polanksi keep the viewers guessing about the next potential twist in the story. Like Gittes in Chinatown, the ghost writer only knows so much and in his adventure to find out the unknown, he lands himself in serious trouble. The sombre mood of the movie is another similarity and I suspect this was Polanksi's earnest attempt to better the 1974 gem. There is an unmissable sense of anticipation for the viewer as the layers of the story unfold. The mystery about the past is interlaced with the equally intriguing characters of Amelia Bly (Kim Catrall), the P.M.'s secretary, Paul Emmett(Tom Wilkinson)- a Harvard professor and Olivia Williams (Sixth Sense, An Education)who plays the P.M.'s wife with grace. These 3 supporting characters lend the storyline the depth and the requisite persona that a political thriller so requires to succeed.

The are quite a few reasons why one should watch The Ghost Writer, foremost among them being the political subject that is brought to the fore. That is coupled with some sturdy performances by the cast members. The surprise ending will also give you value for the amount of time you would invest.Inspite of these, the reason why the movie still doesn't really sweep you off your feet is because of it's rather slow narrative. It's there to maintain the shroud of secrecy for the longest time but in the bargain the characters end up betraying a lack of emotional energy in some of the key scenes. As a result, the momentum that would've propelled the storyline forward never presents itself.

The Ghost Writer is what some people would say intelligent cinema is all about- and it's almost there - just some polish from Polanksi (no pun intended) would've made it yet another unforgettable gem.

Rating: 6.8/10