MPAA Rating: PG-13/Genre: Political Thriller-Mystery/ Stars: Ewan McGregor, Pierce Brosnan, Olivia Williams, Kim Cattrall, Timothy Hutton, Tom Wilkinson, Jon Bernthal, James Belushi, Robert Pugh, Tim Preece, David Rintoul, Eli Wallach/ Runtime: 128 minutes
I think it is safe to start this review off by stating that, much to my internal dismay, the film I am reviewing today aka 2010’s mystery-thriller The Ghost Writer doesn’t seem destined for cinephiles or just the average movie goer to really take the time to remember to insert onto their lists of either great slices of cinematic pie from the year 2010 or even amongst the truly great films to be located on the résumé of film helmer Roman Polanski. Yet be that as it may be, the fact still remains that this film is still most assuredly a riveting, engaging, and well-made entry in the Thriller genre that is also based in realistic scenarios that are then appropriately made fictional so it can be enjoyed by movie goers worldwide. Indeed this film, based on a novel by a man named Robert Harris, with its intriguing and complicated group of characters, immersive themes, and slow-building narrative does feel more like a book than an actual film, but to Polanski’s credit he does manage to make the slower pace and the multilayered narrative nuances work out brilliantly. If anything, the only issue that this film really seems to have is that its only point for existence, beyond trying to be the best film it can hope to be, is one based in the idea of making a statement about politics of some sort or fashion. Ultimately however, this film is still worth seeing at the very least once, and then perhaps multiple times after that, so you the movie goer can really truly see all that it has to offer you and other movie lovers from a narrative, behind the camera, and in front of the camera point of views even if this is a film seemingly destined to sink beneath the waves and become a “genuinely good film that was tragically forgotten quite a while ago” rather than one which will be seen as iconic masterpiece.
The plot is as follows: The Ghost Writer tells the story of a former British PM by the name of Adam Lang who, when our story begins, has just earned himself a cool 10 mil for a memoir he is planning to have published. Suffice it to say though that even though he has an intriguing yarn to regale, there are some slight complications in that not only can he not write to save his life, but the previous person he had hired for the job has just been found dead. Thus this is our introduction to our main character, a man simply known as “The Ghost” as he is both hired on as the replacement and also tasked with working with Lang and delivering a manuscript within a month that is more complex than it really ought to be. Yet we soon learn that it is not the challenge of shaping and molding the manuscript into something readable that has our main character spooked. Rather it’s the fact that not long after beginning their collaboration, Lang finds himself in a wee bit of trouble due to suspicions of aiding the CIA in torturing alleged terrorists. Thus with thus and other charges likely, we soon see the deadline shortened and our main character earning himself an unwelcome front row seat in the spotlight. Making things even more intriguing however is the slowly growing belief on the part of our intrepid writer that there is something more to Lang and his entourage that is, at least upon casually looking over the text, not to be found. To that end, it isn’t long before our main character begins to discover things that soon start to point towards the very distinct possibility that there is a discovery to be found in these pages that is more significant than just the simple recanting and looking back of a former Prime Minister…..
Now right off the bat I should give major props to this film for the fact that it is a wonderfully delivered trinity act style narrative structure film that works off a wonderfully done introduction which soon takes a distinct turn towards where the film is going to eventually lead to as the middle of the film begins with an intriguing wrinkle that is quick to annihilate a lot of what is set up in the beginning. Finally from there we see the movie end with a reveal that is not only brilliantly hidden up till then, but is also one which will require you to see this film more than once in order to locate the subtle hints and clues scattered throughout. Ultimately though it is the style with which this engrossing narrative is told to us that helps to make this film a step above the norm as it were. Indeed film helmer Polanski manages to accomplish one of the more intriguing cinematic challenges out there and gives us a film that negates a lot of action in a physical sense, but is still able to be an intriguing and gripping film. In fact if there is a flaw in the way that this film chooses to do things it’s not to be found in the lack of firearms or exciting car chases and fisticuffs, but instead in the fact that the narrative doesn’t seem to have a point beyond a superficial existence. Indeed this film seems to be looking for some kind of higher message that never shows up and even though the vast majority of the rest of the ingredients in this film are top-notch, that hole where the point of the movie should be is just as glaringly obvious as all the positives the film has going for it.
It should also be noted that this film is also a triumph in the way that it operates as a film involving multiple clear-cut dichotomies which help to shape both the point of the movie and its narrative. A fact that incidentally is nowhere close to being as obvious as the key differences between the pair of lead characters at the heart of the film. One is known simply as “The Ghost” and is shown to be both apolitical in every sense of the word, but also is one who wants nothing to do with the spotlight whilst also being unafraid to either get this assignment done or to find the truth when called upon no matter how perilous it may be. In addition, his career as a ghost writer and the fact that the character is never ever given a name manages to strengthen the vibe of anonymity we are supposed to get from him. On the other side of the coin is Adam Lang. Indeed here is a guy who not only can’t seem to get away from the glare of a camera flash, but also seems to possess just as many people who want him dead as people ready to erect a monument in his honor when that day finally arrives. Indeed not only does the movie play this dichotomy for what it can, but it also does just as much with the contrasts to be found with the development of a memoir meant to show just who someone is, but is kept locked up to say nothing of how it might have some earth-shattering reveals yet they aren’t printed in any clear manner within the text itself.
Yet as strong in many respects as this movie is, the manners in which it moves the narrative forward do come to depend on way too many modern tech “crutches” as it were. Indeed according to this film figuring out a mystery with international applications really is as easy as choosing to listen to a possibly malfunctioning GPS and then putting a few words into Google. However even though this pair of examples if not a few others do seem to lean in the direction of the convenient, film helmer Polanski is able to hide them fairly well thanks to both his wonderful skill at the helm and terrific work from a game cast especially when it comes to Ewan McGregor and Pierce Brosnan, especially because he’s not having to sing in this, as the film’s for all intents and purposes main characters of interest in the film. Indeed be they in the same scene together or whenever they’re operating with anyone else in the entire film, these two are absolutely fantastic and truly dynamite especially Brosnan who, despite his billing maybe has about 35 minutes of screen time tops, does a truly electric job at playing a character with more than his fair share of former British PM Tony Blair about him and just as much in common with a fair amount of those in politics who try their best and usually fail at being utter enigmas. As for the rest of the cast they all also manage to do truly great work at both populating the world around these two men, but also in being fully-realized characters in their own right and really helping the film move at just the right pace.
All in all long-time in hiding over in Europe yet still iconic if not slightly infamous by this point in his life as ever film helmer Roman Polanski’s 2010 film The Ghost Writer is an often very intelligent film that is riveting, helmed very well, and engagingly performed by a talented group of thespians no matter how big or small their role may be. At the same time however, this also seems to be a slice of cinematic pie that is one which doesn’t resonate for very long, but is also respectable for the level of skill put towards its construction even if doesn’t come up with what it is supposed to in terms of how relevant it is and just what is its purpose in existing in the world of cinema. That being said, where this film is truly an intellectual giant is in its various dichotomies, locales, and the manner in which helmer Polanski chooses to work with the necessarily slow-building narrative. Yes the absence of action is obvious, but this is a film that is only trying to blow your mind apart with its conclusion and no more, no less. Indeed this is an intriguing yet also riveting film that is constructed on a steady foundation of curiosity and intrigue rather than explosives and fisticuffs, of slow and steady rather than fast and furious, and of style yet not completely omitted substance. It is also a film that is built on themes of a political nature, themes incidentally which come to showcase the whole of the narrative that will be easily obvious to discern for those among you who were in the know at a certain time about global politics. Yet even if you were an ignoramus or you know and simply choose to overlook these things so you can pay attention to the narrative then you also will find quite a bit to enjoy with this film. That is because despite the similarities the film may have with current events that were ongoing at the time it was made, the film is also a slick and well-constructed film that is sure to intrigue and captivate both movie lovers and just those of us who plain and simply love a good mystery period. On a scale of 1-5 I give The Ghost Writer “2010” a solid 3.5 out of 5.