05 April 2010

The Ghost Writer

Polanski's The Ghost Writer is not a great movie.  Most of the shots are pretty, in that muted New England beach landscape kind of way,  and there are moments of suspense, but it is ruined both by the actors and it's half realized effort to be politically relevant.  The acting is not great, but that's not really what I'm interested in talking about.  What made the film feel unfinished, forced and at times silly, was the attempt to make parallels with reality and the political world created in the film.  At one point, a news conference with Adam Lang, the former British Prime Minister who is hiding in the US to avoid the ICC and allegations of war crimes, played by Pierce Brosnan, and a black woman who looks like Condoleeza Rice actually elicited laughs from most of the audience at the Union Square theater, which was more than half full.  Lang is maybe Tony Blair and some oblique references are made to a stupid American president, who could only be George W. Bush, and a weapons/defense manufacturer called Hatherton, a stand in for Halliburton.  Lang is under attack by the media for supposedly allowing terrorist suspects to be tortured, illustrated in the news with a really unconvincing reenactment of water boarding.

The decision to use these barely veiled correlative characters and events is a strange one.  Clearly there are significant enough differences in the the story of the movie and the real events of the British involvement in the Iraq war that the film probably couldn't getting away with using the actual names of Bush, Rice and Halliburton, but Polanski doesn't give his viewers much credit, making his fictional versions so obvious as to be embarrassing.

I don't think the movie was intended to solicit laughter at any point, but there was quite a bit.  The plot balances on the content of a memoir written by Lang's former ghost writer, who died mysteriously, which contains clues to the truth behind the war crime allegations and Lang's entire career.  Ewan McGregor, an unnamed writer known only as "the ghost," stumbles upon some of the former ghost writer's research materials which reveal certain holes in Lang's story, and begins an investigation.  At one point about two-thirds through the movie I remember thinking, "Oh, god the manuscript is going to have some secret code or something," but was relieved when it didn't, only to be more disappointed when this turned out to be true at the end of the movie.

It's unfortunate, because the movie had a lot of the right elements to make a cool conspiracy-esque story, CIA and all that, but it seemed confused as to how far it wanted to go into a full conspiracy movie, versus a political thriller or whatever.

I would just watch Chinatown again.

Before seeing I called my parents because it was Easter.  I told my dad I was going to see the movie, and he said that my mom wouldn't let them go because Roman Polanski is a pedophile or something.  "I didn't realize you guys were so ethical," I said.  "Well, if you see his movie then you're supporting him, so I guess we're not going do to that."  "But you liked Chinatown," I said, "before you knew he was a pedo."