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With: Ewan McGregor, Pierce Brosnan, Olivia Williams, Kim Cattrall, Tom Wilkinson, James Belushi, Timothy Hutton, Eli Wallach, Jon Bernthal, Tim Preece
Written by: Roman Polanski, Robert Harris, based on a novel by Robert Harris
Directed by: Roman Polanski
MPAA Rating: PG-13 for language, brief nudity/sexuality, some violence and a drug reference
Running Time: 128
Date: 12/02/2010
IMDB

The Ghost Writer (2010)

4 Stars (out of 4)

Book Smart

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

Based on a 2007 novel by Robert Harris, The Ghost Writer may be, at its core, just a standard issue thriller. But as directed by old master Roman Polanski, it turns into cinema of the highest order. And it's important to remember that Polanski's earlier films -- much like Fritz Lang's during his Hollywood period -- were mostly dime-store thrillers of a similar nature (Knife in the Water, Repulsion, Rosemary's Baby, The Tenant, etc.); it's just that time has turned them into classics. This new movie will undoubtedly share the same fate.

The old-timer has a refreshing, almost startling use of the widescreen frame, using windows and weather to corner and intimidate his characters. In fact, almost everything in the movie is used to beat down its hero, an unnamed ghostwriter (Ewan McGregor), making him feel increasingly paranoid and displaced.

The "ghost," as he is referred to, takes the job of finishing the memoirs of a retired British Prime Minister, Adam Lang (Pierce Brosnan). The ghost's predecessor died in mysterious circumstances. The job is already fishy, as the ghost must travel to the U.S. (to an island off the east coast) and work in Lang's home; the original manuscript -- which needs drastic re-writing -- must never leave the premises.

Just after the ghost takes the job, Lang is accused of war crimes, having sent prisoners of war to the U.S. for questioning (and torture). This sends the already paranoid Lang household into a weird frenzy. Lang's personal assistant Amelia (Kim Cattrall) treats the ghost with suspicion and Lang's wife Ruth (Olivia Williams) is hot and cold to him. As he digs, the ghost begins to discover sinister things in Lang's past that somebody does not want him to know.

Polanski uses absolutely everything to his advantage, including the ghost's jet lag when he first arrives; he keeps falling asleep and waking up to strange sights. When the ghost borrows a bike to explore the island, he slips in the house's rocky, gravel driveway. Even the voice of a GPS in a borrowed vehicle turns menacing.

This is a supreme example of auteur cinema, when a great filmmaker can assert his personality over even the most wretched of material. I have heard of other critics picking apart the plot of this movie, complaining about the inconsistencies and implausibilities, without ever noticing the emotional state of the movie. Cinema is about more than telling stories, and The Ghost Writer is a perfect specimen of artistry, personality, and emotion taking the front seat, and making us feel something.

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