Roman Polanski‘s The Ghost Writer (Summit, 2.19) is a brilliant and masterful adult thriller. I just saw it this evening, and less than ten minutes after it began I knew I was once again in the hands of perhaps the most exacting filmmaker alive today, and as sharp as he’s ever been. This film is so gloriously not run-of-the-mill-Hollywood I can barely stand it.
Pierce Brosnan, Ewan McGregor in Roman Polanski’s The Ghost Writer
Anyone who says “very well made but not enough action, not emotional enough and not a big enough payoff” is asking for commonality from the wrong guy. Polanski has never been one to massage and titillate the Eloi. He makes films for people who get what he’s up to. The Ghost Writer knows exactly what it’s doing and how to play cerebral thriller chess. It really is a masterpiece of its type.
It’s now a settled issue in my head that Variety‘s Derek Elley is a highly unreliable reviewer. I’m basing my judgment on the fact that Elley wrote that Polanski “brings not a jot of his own directorial personality or quirks” to The Ghostwriter. That is a complete flabbergast. The film throbs with Polanski’s personality and mentality. The same calmly intelligent approach to story — the sharp dialogue, subtle hints and clues, exacting narrative tissue, patient accumulation of facts and intuitions — that characterized Repulsion, Rosemary’s Baby and Chinatown are here in abundance.
I’m in an Upper West Side cafe that’s closing down but I’ll write more about this tomorrow. I haven’t had such a complaint-free time with a thriller of this type in ages. The crowd I caught it with was totally enraptured — I could feel the concentration in the room — although I suspect that the Eloi will sidestep it for the most part. (Isn’t that what they generally do? Avoid intelligent adult fare?)
So often the protagonist in this type of thriller will be slow on the uptake or speak clumsily or be tongue-tied in some way when the occasion calls for the opposite, but Ewan McGregor‘s lead character — a bright and astute Brit hired to ghostwrite a political memoir for an ex-Prime Minister in the Tony Blair mold (Pierce Brosnan) — is wonderfully alert and articulate all the way through, even when he’s scared or uncertain or conflicted.
And the story never loses or confuses you. It moves along step by intelligent step. I can’t for the life of me figure why Marshall Fine called the middle sections “frustrating.” The film is never that. As long as you’re not looking for a Michael Bay or Martin Campbell-esque experience, The Ghost Writer delivers a kind of heaven that smart moviegoers will flutter over.
The only bad element during the screening was a 60ish asshole with swept-back gray hair who kept going “uhm-hmm” out loud whenever a significant detail or direction was revealed. He was sitting on the other side of my aisle — seven or eight feet away — and he really wanted everyone in his vicinity to know that he was getting all the twists and turns. I hate guys like this. Every so often I would look over and burn death-ray beams into the left side of his head.