Wednesday, March 31, 2010

The Ghost Writer (Rhoades)

“Ghost Writer” Writes Latest Polanski Chapter
Reviewed by Shirrel Rhoades

You’ve likely caught the news reports about director Roman Polanski being arrested in Switzerland a few months ago on charges that he had unlawful sex with a minor in Jack Nicholson’s hot tub back in 1977. This unexpected incarceration interrupted the production of Polanski’s latest film, a mystery thriller called “The Ghost Writer.”

I generally ascribe to the auteur theory of filmmaking: that great directors make great films. But sometimes a great director’s personal life can get in the way of appreciating his work.
Woody Allen may be one, a guy whose personal peccadilloes nearly overshadowed his cinematic genius.

Another is Charlie Chaplin, whose association with leftist viewpoints drove him to Europe during the witch-hunts of the McCarthy era.

Same could be said of Roman Polanski, the French-born Polish director who gives us “The Ghost Writer,” now playing at the Tropic Cinema.

While I want to think of Polanski as the filmmaker who created “Knife on the Water,” “Rosemary’s Baby,” “The Pianist,” and “Chinatown,” it’s difficult not to remember him as the aggrieved widower of actress Sharon Tate, the budding star who was butchered by Charlie Manson’s maniacal gang. And if I can get past that, I’m reminded by his recent arrest in Switzerland that he’s wanted in the U.S. for having sex with a 15-year-old girl.

Let’s not argue over his guilt. Whether the girl was willing … or whether that kind of thing is commonplace in European societies … or whether he got a raw deal by U.S. law officials (there’s an excellent documentary about these points), I’m trying to concentrate on his latest film, evaluate it on merits along, ignoring the whirlwind of controversy that surrounds its director.
Polanski is truly a gifted filmmaker. And he finished “The Ghost Writer” under the duress of house arrest.

Here is the story of a writer (played by Ewan McGregor) who is hired to ghostwrite the memoirs of a former British prime minister (Pierce Brosnan). The man who had the assignment before him has died under questionable circumstances. In the midst of our ghostwriter’s research, the prime minister is accused of war crimes, an assertion that brings the news media en mass to the remote island where the book’s collaboration is underway.

And as our writer digs into the politician’s background, he begins to turn up details that seem contrary to the accepted history, facts linking the politico to the American CIA.

What’s going on here? Did the ghostwriter’s predecessor discover too much, leading to his death? Is our scribe getting in too deep for his own good?

Yes, Brosnan’s character is clearly modeled after former British Prime Minister Tony Blair. But we’re not aware of any people dying in the course of ghostwriting his autobiography.

Polanski co-wrote the script with Robert Harris, the novelist who penned “The Ghost,” the book that’s the basis for the film.

Along with McGregor (“Angels & Demons,” the “Star Wars” films) and Brosnan (James Bond films, “Remember Me”), we have Olivia Williams (“An Education”) as the politician’s wife; Kim Cattrall (“Sex and the City”) as his mistress; Timothy Hutton (“Ordinary People”) as his lawyer; Tom Wilkinson (“Michael Clayton”) as a suspected CIA agent; and Jim Belushi (TV’s “According to Jim”) as his publisher.

The plot device – a writer playing detective – is mindful of “The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo,” a book that’s getting a lot of buzz at my Key West luncheons with a group of local writers and college professors.

So I remain conflicted. Admiring “The Ghost Writer” as a stylist thriller from a great director. And wishing I didn’t know that Polanski was involved.
[from Solares Hill]

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