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Saturday, March 20, 2010

The Ghost Writer (***)



The end credits of The Ghost Writer contain one peculiar credit: "With the participation of Eli Wallach". What does that mean, 'participation'?  He acted in the movie. How else did he 'participate'?  Did he park cars or cook craft services on the set? Would The Ghost Writer not have been made if he hadn't 'participated'? That bugged me. I thought it was dumb. But whatever. The Ghost Writer isn't dumb. It's a well-made film from Roman Polanski, a man who himself participated is some sleazy, sordid affairs in his day. Ewan McGregor stars as the title character, a man we know nothing about, not even his name (he's called The Ghost in the credits - also dumb). Former Jedi McGregor is not excited to be asked to ghost write the memoirs of former British Prime Minister and former James Bond Pierce Brosnan, especially when his predecessor is found dead, but $250,000 got him on a plane and ferry to Brosnan's stark compound in Martha's Vineyard. Soon, Brosnan is accused by the International Court of war crimes for authorizing the water boarding and torture of terrorists when he was in power - a scandal that's covered by British and American television news with the gusto of the earthquake in Haiti. Next thing McGregor knows, he's being followed by black cars, being approached by sinister looking Brits in hotel bars, and finds himself trying to unravel Brosnan's labyrinthine past involving the CIA, Tom Wilkinson, and Brosnan's cold fish wife Olivia Williams. Kim Cattrall, as Brosnan's right hand ("Mrs. Bly"), puts on a shaky British accent amidst the real Brits in the cast. Wilkinson, himself a real Brit, is more successful with his American accent, as tends to be the case. The trouble with The Ghost Writer is that McGregor's character is himself not very interesting.  He's a cypher; in fact, the movie goes out of its way to avoid making him interesting.  Perhaps that was the point of his character, but it hardly makes him someone for an audience to root for when all the bad doings are transpiring.  The most interesting person in the movie is Brosnan (I would read his memoirs for sure) but he's really only in a few key scenes and disappears for large chunks of the picture. If you're paying attention to the clues being dropped - especially if you've ever seen a Hitchcock movie - the reveals in the third act don't particularly come as a shock. I did learn that if I ever have to ghost write the memoirs of a scandalous political figure, I'd look both ways before crossing the street.