Mem­oir is hell

The Ghost Writer, po­lit­i­cal thriller, rated PG-13, Re­gal DeVar­gas, 3 chiles

Pasatiempo - - Moving Images - Robert Nott The New Mex­i­can

In the open­ing scene of Ro­man Polan­ski’s good but not great thriller The Ghost Writer, a driver­less car is towed off a ferry dur­ing a chilly, rain-swept night. The driver shows up in the next shot, his body washed up on the shore of a cold, de­serted beach. The man — who ei­ther jumped, slipped, or was pushed from the ferry — was hired as a ghost­writer to shape the bi­og­ra­phy of a for­mer Bri­tish prime min­is­ter who is com­ing un­der po­lit­i­cal fire for his role in kid­nap­ping sus­pected ter­ror­ists and hand­ing them over to the CIA to face tor­ture. Ap­par­ently, the ghost­writ­ing gig was pretty stress­ful. “It was the book that killed him,” one of his pub­lish­ing peers cheer­fully notes.

Ah, but the dead man’s re­place­ment will let no such mishap be­fall him. He’s a name­less Bri­tish chap with a wry sense of hu­mor and the abil­ity to put heart into the text of the most ba­nal au­to­bi­ogra­phies. And for $250,000, he’ll gladly hole up in an iso­lated fortresslike struc­ture on an is­land off the coast of Mas­sachusetts to work with his sub­ject. The plan is to get the book done in a month, and this boy is the per­fect choice for the

job: he can work quickly, he has no fam­ily ties, and he isn’t su­per­sti­tious about creepy old sea­side inns or the mourn­ful cry of a foghorn alert­ing pass­ing ships to dan­ger.

There’s dan­ger aplenty in The Ghost Writer, as the ti­tle char­ac­ter (called “the ghost” and played by Ewan McGre­gor) quickly re­al­izes — he has stum­bled onto an in­ter­na­tional con­spir­acy to con­trol the world. That’s not ac­tu­ally true; the stakes turn out to be not quite so high.

But for two-thirds of its run­ning time, The Ghost Writer re­in­forces the fact that Polan­ski knows how to make psy­cho­log­i­cal sus­pense movies bet­ter than just about any­one else out there. This is the man who brought us the grip­ping Knife in the Wa­ter (1962), Re­pul­sion (1965),

Cul-de-Sac (1966), and Chi­na­town (1974). He won an Os­car for 2002’s The Pi­anist.

Ghost Writer is a claus­tro­pho­bic work, and it doesn’t give our hero much room to grow, ex­plore, or es­cape. The ghost­writer’s em­ployer, Adam Lang (Pierce Bros­nan), is trapped in a for­eign land as he tries to es­cape the in­ter­na­tional court’s at­tempts to try him for war crimes. Tossed into the cramped, dreary set­tings are Lang’s spite­ful wife, Ruth (Olivia Wil­liams), and his sec­re­tary/mis­tress Amelia (Kim Cat­trall of

Sex and the City).

There’s no point in re­veal­ing the se­crets that the ghost­writer un­cov­ers — mostly by ac­ci­dent or co­in­ci­dence, which mars the screen­play’s over­all im­pact — but let it suf­fice to say that he’s soon elud­ing shad­owy pur­suers and deal­ing with scowl­ing body­guards who claim to be pro­tect­ing him even as they lock the doors of his small ho­tel room. The women in the story are du­plic­i­tous, too — it’s as if the pro­tag­o­nist has writ­ten him­self into an Eric Am­bler novel.

In fact, the story line and char­ac­ters sprang out of a Robert Har­ris book. Har­ris, a for­mer Bri­tish jour­nal­ist who cov­ered Tony Blair’s cam­paign in Eng­land and got a bit close to his sub­ject be­fore turn­ing on him, wrote The Ghost, the novel on which this screen­play (co-writ­ten by Har­ris and Polan­ski) is based. Lang is a thinly veiled ver­sion of Blair, al­though as played by Bros­nan here, he may re­mind you just as much of Ron­ald Rea­gan.

As a po­lit­i­cal thriller, the movie is a lit­tle “all wet” — no sur­prise, given how of­ten it rains in the pic­ture. But it in­cludes a lot of de­li­cious mo­ments in which the hero de­cides to do some­thing stupid, and you want to scream out, “Don’t do that!” — know­ing full well that if he didn’t do it, there wouldn’t be much sus­pense. The act­ing is first-rate all around, though not on a level that will sum­mon up Academy Award nom­i­na­tions. Think of the smooth un­der­play­ing of Cary Grant, James Ma­son, and Eva Marie Saint in North by North­west, and you’ll get the pic­ture. Alexan­dre De­s­plat’s score pays ob­vi­ous — and nail-bit­ingly suc­cess­ful — homage to Bernard Her­rmann’s com­po­si­tions for that 1959 Hitch­cock thriller. There’s a scene late in the pic­ture in­volv­ing the pass­ing of an en­ve­lope from hand to hand, and De­s­plat’s score makes all the dif­fer­ence when it comes to tak­ing your breath away. Hervé de Luze’s edit­ing is a big plus, too — nei­ther he nor Polan­ski were in a hurry to cut scenes short, let­ting the ac­tors carry out lengthy bits of busi­ness to build the ten­sion.

The pic­ture sports a de­light­fully dark sense of hu­mor, much like Polan­ski’s 1967 hor­ror spoof The Fear­less Vam­pire Killers. Af­ter an el­derly man played with spunk by Eli Wal­lach launches into a lengthy

Scooby Doo-style ex­pla­na­tion of the strange lights vis­i­ble on the beach and the fact that the first ghost­writer’s body couldn’t pos­si­bly have washed up on this sec­tion of shore due to some nau­ti­cal anom­aly, he lets our hero know that there’s an eye­wit­ness who can clear it all up. “But she won’t talk to you,” the elder says with a sense of fi­nal­ity. “Why not?” the ghost asks. “She’s in a coma.” In the fi­nal reels, The Ghost Writer comes close to slip­ping into a coma. But un­til then, it will make you glad to go to the the­ater to take in an old-fash­ioned mys­tery — par­tic­u­larly on a rainy night. ◀

The se­cret love child of Tony Blair and Ron­ald Rea­gan: Pierce Bros­nan

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from USA

© PressReader. All rights reserved.