Roman Polanski's 'The Ghost Writer' bears the most in common with his recent 'The Ninth Gate'. The comparison starts this review as many others will inevitably find some comparison to be made with the director's work, especially since his personality looms so large.
The plot has been described countless times and will be spared here. What instead fascinates is the depiction of Ewan McGregor as the nameless protagonist. He has no family, no real attachments so to speak, and no real drive. Like Johnny Depp's "book detective" in 'The Ninth Gate' his reason for existence seems to be to serve those higher in society. McGregor plays the party well, never completely convincing in one state or the other. Even when under duress his physical movements speak much more about his mental state than his mannerisms. This could be interpreted as Polanski's examination of apathy within larger society. What I mean by that is to say that it is through the Ghost's lack of interest that one can observe the world.
Shot by Pawel Edelman, who has collaborated with Polanski in the past as well as with other heavyweight Polish filmmaker Andrzej Wajda, the images of 'The Ghost Writer' suggest a cool bleakness. Accompanied by a poetic score by the always reliable Alexandre Desplat the film suggests a constant looming menace, embodied by the rain of the New England island. The camera often remains static, sometimes zeroing in for reactions, but always showing a complete action through a singular movement or lack of movement. Often times the characters seem resigned to their fates. The roles each person plays in the story are very clearly defined. Former-PM Adam Lang (Pierce Brosnan), surrounded by his lackeys, anti-war protesters, etc. all seem just pieces of grander scale. Polanski's world view is so thoroughly and crisply represented through this visual style it is as if the individual events are not as important as the atmosphere in general.
This is precisely why the film works, because of a director so in command of his craft. The film runs over 2 hours but every decision feels completely blocked and planned out. Every image carefully composed, every moment of information tightly plotted. 'The Ghost Writer' works terrifically by raising your blood level in this manner. Some will inevitably complain it makes the film seem merely serviceable when such expected plot twists occur. Yet I can think of few filmmakers so readily able to create such a vivid world and sustain it greatly. There are some pacing issues and the music can be overbearing. These are not unlike the problems facing Martin Scorsese's 'Shutter Island'. The talent of all involved makes the film exceed a workmanlike thriller even though the atmosphere on set was so mathematical.
A very enjoyable, meticulous film that demands and rewards patience. Worth seeing.
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