Review: The Ghost Writer DVD

STUDIO: Summit | DIRECTOR: Roman Polanski | CAST: Ewan McGregor, Pierce Brosnan, Olivia Williams, Tom Wilkinson, Kim Cattrall, Eli Wallach, Jim Belushi
RELEASE DATE: 8/3/2010 | PRICE: DVD $26.99, Blu-ray/DVD combo disc $40.99
BONUSES: three featurettes
SPECS: PG-13 | 128 min. | Thriller | 2.35:1 widescreen | Dolby Digital 5.1/DTS-HD Master Audio DTS Surround Sound | English and Spanish subtitles

RATINGS (out of 5): Movie | Audio | Video | Overall

Unlike Roman Polanksi’s other thrillers, The Ghost Writer is political. But as with his other films, his latest once again forces us to look through windows, figuratively and literally, over the shoulder of a protagonist with whom we are made to identify.

In this movie, it’s a ghost writer (Ewan McGregor, unnamed here and in novelist/screenwriter Robert Harris’ 2007 bestseller) who’s hired to spice up the autobiography of former British Prime Minister Andrew Lang (Pierce Brosnan). The previous ghost writer, you see, mysteriously drowned in the bay outside of Lang’s wintry, large-windowed home (toldja!) on Martha’s Vineyard. It’s all ominous from the outset, but as the new ghost needs the cash and self-respect, he takes on the job and plunges into a far-reaching and complex story involving Lang’s being accused of international war crimes, the CIA, the White House and a Halliburton-like weapons manufacturer. Maybe the answer is hidden in the lengthy manuscript the previous ghost writer left behind…

The Ghost Writer’s story is rich and complex, though not wholly satisfying. It’s Polanski’s sheer craftsmanship — which has grown more formal and classically constructed in recent years, but no less powerful — that’s most effective here. His angles, editing, pace, direction of actors — his filmmaking — puts the audience where he wants us to be, seeing and revealing what he wants us to see, plot twists, red herrings and idiosyncratic characters by damed. The storytelling and filmmaking is so pure, and that’s where the value is. Watching Polanski’s collaboration with Harris, I thought of Hitchcock’s work with scenarist John Michael Hayes on the 1956 version of The Man Who Knew Too Much: polished, precise, sophisticated.

The cast is top-notch. McGregor is appropriately mystified and appealing as the ghost, while Pierce Brosnan’s Tony Blair-ish take as the charismatic former PM is the best work he has ever done. Ditto for Olivia Williams as his Cherie Booth-like wife, Tom Wilkinson and Robert Pugh as political power players, 94-year-old Eli Wallach as a Martha’s Vineyard beach hermit and even Kim Cattrall as Lang’s adoring, hard-as-nails personal assistant.

Laurent Bouzereau’s supplemental 30-minute documentary is divided into three featurettes. The most engaging is Polanski’s segment, which, though billed as an “interview,” simply finds him talking about the production and his view on his oeuvre.

“I don’t know how to define my kind of cinema,” he shrugs. “I like to say that I’m making movies for the grown-ups.”

Hear, hear!

 

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About Laurence

Founder and editor Laurence Lerman saw Alfred Hitchcock’s North by Northwest when he was 13 years old and that’s all it took. He has been writing about film and video for more than a quarter of a century for magazines, anthologies, websites and most recently, Video Business magazine, where he served as the Reviews Editor for 15 years.