If this glove fits, tell your friends to go see "The Ghost Writer."

The Ghost Writer

An Illusion Review by Joan Ellis


            Are there any among you ancient enough to remember the fun of going to the movies in the mid-century? The cartoon, the newsreel (where else could we actually see the news), the short subject, the previews? But above all, movies changed three times a week and likely as not you might luck into a suspense thriller. If this glove fits, tell your friends to go see "The Ghost Writer."

            Nowadays, attempts at suspense are usually accompanied by blaring music and primary colors that lead to an eruption of gunfire and blood. This isn't suspense; it's shock. "The Ghost Writer" is a jumble of sorts. It's co-writer and director, Roman Polanski, did his share of the work while in jail and then under house arrest in Switzerland. Because he can't come to the U.S. without being arrested here, the film was shot in Germany where they built the main set - the beach house - entirely in the studio. Ocean and beaches are delivered by green screen. Martha's Vineyard in Berlin.

            Former Prime Minister Adam Lang (Pierce Brosnan) is wintering in that summer resort (don't ask why). The ghost writer who was collaborating on Lang's memoir has washed up on a beach. A replacement must be hired to tweak the rather dull first draft. The prize is a ten million dollar advance from Rhinehart, Inc., New York publisher. The job is won by a somewhat disheveled young man referred to only as "Ghost" (Ewan McGregor). Even before he can unpack, the trouble begins. The evening news announces that Adam Lang has been accused of kidnapping terrorists and delivering them to CIA for questioning and torture. The world court plans an indictment.

            Instead of suspense by explosions and crashes, we are given clues to ponder while an occasional brass instrument plays a single tone that grows in intensity until finally it ends in revelation or resolution. This is suspense, the old fashioned way. In a terrific opening that wastes no motions, we accompany Ghost by big plane, little plane, and ferry to his new job. In the winter rain, the beach house resembles a white concrete bunker against white sand. Ghost meets Adam Lang, Adam's bitter wife Ruth (Olivia Williams), Lang's assistant, Amelia (Kim Cottrell) who is sleeping with the boss, and a slew of characters in various shades of shadow - any one of whom - Agatha Christie fashion - could be the villain. I don't dwell on performances here because most are just fine. It's the plot that counts in this one.

            Settle in and follow the clues in this story of dark betrayal. Watch for a particularly clever twist involving GPS and a sublime note passing episode that would have made Hitchcock proud. The filmmakers cobbled the pieces together to accommodate Polanski's exile, and it's not by any means seamless. But the man is a story teller in the best sense of things, and it's great fun to get lost in the intrigues.


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