Film Reviews

THE GHOST WRITER

By • Mar 14th, 2010 •

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To quote Etore Scola, which I’ve done before, “The great script is half story, half memory.” Roman Polanski is Scola’s poster boy. THE PIANIST and THE TENANT, for examples, come from pre-existing materials, but are laced with his own experiences – in the former, fleeing from the holocaust, in the latter, his tragedy with Sharon Tate and the paranoia that ensued. Now he’s at it again. THE GHOST WRITER has literary origins, but Polanski’s paranoia about secret meanings, and an over-riding hostility toward American systems, is everywhere in between the frames in this extraordinarily mounted film.

Granted, the style is dour, sullen, and slowly paced, yet I couldn’t take my eyes off the screen for a single frame. And – something I find paradoxical – I was glued to Ewan McGregor, yet simultaneously aware of every camera placement, the use of space, the color design, the lens choices, the light…if nothing else, I owe Polanski a handshake for proving to me that I can multi-task. This is truly the product of a master film craftsman. And while I didn’t buy the last five minutes, which involves a final revelation and its consequences, I didn’t find the overall experience substantively diminished.

THE GHOST WRITER is tied to other of Polanski’s films, analogous to the way certain themes reappeared in Kubrick’s and Chaplin’s films even though they had as much as decades between productions to search out entirely new material. Literature, now out of vogue, is a primary obsession of Polanski’s here, as it is in THE NINTH GATE, and this is the better film. Filming in confined spaces for long periods of time and making the space never feel boring is a challenge the director makes to himself, as in KNIFE IN WATER, REPULSION and DEATH AND THE MAIDEN, and this is as good a film in that respect as those three. The paranoid dread of the uber-Hitchcock thriller can be found in FRANTIC, and again, this is the superior film. The guy’s really kicking ass in his later years.

I visited Polanski in Paris a dozen or so years ago, and found him to be friendly and eager to evoke laughter. He recommended a restaurant for me – Le Boeuf sur le Toit – which I thoroughly enjoyed (though I hear it may have slipped in qualit recently). I haven’t spoken to him in several years, so I can’t confirm that he finished post-production on this film in jail, and I wonder if he might have tightened it a little if he’d been out and about and all over the editorial process. And I also wonder if the film’s sudden release has to do with the distributor wanting to beat out the judge’s verdict in the rape case, or if it was intended to drum up support for him with its aesthetic brilliance. If the former, well, there’s crass commercial thinking for you. If the latter, the anti-CIA sentiment (which comes across as stingingly heartfelt despite the genre) may undermine that scenario. But release strategies aside, here we are in mid-March, and it’s so far the best film of the year.

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