August 5, 2010

Sometimes it’s easy to ignore the baggage of a celebrity. Robert Downey Jr. is one of those guys that though we know he can be wild, when he’s playing Tony Stark I don’t think people are thinking “he did jail time and was a heroin addict, etc.” But while The Ghost Writer was in post-production and in release, its director Roman Polanski was being held in Switzerland under house arrest. Now that Polanski is no longer coming to America and that situation is – for now – resolved, perhaps The Ghost Writer can receive the recognition it deserves as a solid thriller. Alas, any film directed by Polanski will likely always have baggage, even a smart political thriller like this. The film is about a ghost writer (Ewan McGregor) working for an ex-British Prime Minister (Pierce Brosnan) on his memoirs, only for the ghost writer to start uncovering things that suggest American manipulation of his reign. Information that could get him killed. My review of The Ghost Writer on Blu-ray after the jump.

The writer is unnamed (McGregor), but he gets the job after pitching it to – of all people – James Belushi and Timothy Hutton. He is to replace the first ghost writer, who turned up with on shore either having committed suicide or murdered. He is sent to Cape Cod to meet with ex-prime minister Adam Lang (Brosnan), There the writer meets Amelia Bly (Kim Cattral), Lang’s assistant who also appears to be his lover, and then he gets to meet Lang’s wife Ruth (Olivia Williams) who comes off as a bit cold, but partly dejected. As the ghost (as he calls himself) settles in, he sees that things are heating up for Lang – there are calls for a war crimes trial against him for crimes against humanity.

The Ghost starts uncovering the clues left by his predecessor. There are pictures hidden in the room he’s staying in, and when he begins to investigate some of the clues, he starts fearing for his life. Eventually pieces start coming together, about how there may be a connection between Lang and the CIA, specifically through Paul Emmett (Tom Wilkinson), who Lang acted with in college.

Part of the brilliance of the film is that Polanski is a considered director. You can see early on that though this is a slow and steady build, the person telling the story knows how to tell it. There is a level of craftsmanship and visual design and conveyance that is unparallel in modern American cinema. End of discussion, dude knows what he’s doing. He also understands that this is Hitchcockian, and though he’s dabbled in that before (Rosemary’s Baby, Frantic, etc.), this may be his most straight out Hitchcock riff as he definitely understands the purpose of a MacGuffin. This film has one, but to spoil what it is, is to give away one of the great pleasures of the movie.

I understand there are people who can’t separate the art from the artist, and these are people who are not going to be swayed to watching this, but this is one of the high points of 2010 cinema.

Summit’s Blu-ray presents the Blu-ray version on one side and a DVD copy on the other. The film is presented in widescreen (2.35:1) and in 5.1 DTS-HD. The transfer is immaculate. Extras are limited to three featurettes. “The Ghost Writer: Fiction or Reality?”(11 min.) talks to author/screenwriter Robert Harris about the film and adapting it with Polanski, while “The Cast of Ghost Writer” (12 min.) gets the best EPK interviews with the stars. Finally – in terrible audio – there’s a talk with Polanski about the film (9 min.).

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