The Ghost Writer

With its lingering suspense and contemplative intrigue, The Ghost Writer will undoubtedly find itself frequently mentioned in the same breath as many of Alfred Hitchcock's greatest films... and rightly so. The "Master of Suspense" possessed a unique way of building suspense slowly and naturally in his films, never shocking an audience with surprises or cheap gimmicks. With The Ghost Writer, Roman Polanski deploys many of the same techniques to draw us to the familiar story of an ordinary guy who falls into a strange situation that becomes more and more crazy as the film progresses.

The "ordinary guy" in this case is a nameless, but successful British ghost writer (Ewan McGregor) who agrees to complete the memoirs of former British Prime Minister Adam Lang (Pierce Brosnan) who is coming under fire for his alleged complicity in human rights violations involving the torture of Middle East terrorists. Seems the original writer met his untimely demise in a ferry accident while working on the memoirs, but not before he managed to plant a puzzle within the pages of his first draft that may help unravel the political mystery involving the beleaguered politician.

If Brosnan's character bears any similarity to former British Prime Minister Tony Blair, it's not totally by accident. Robert Harris, who wrote the novel on which the film is based, was finally able to complete the story that he'd been chewing on for many years when in 2006, he heard an interview with someone who wanted to bring Blair up on human rights violations. When it was mentioned that the only way for Blair to avoid prosecution would be to move to America where he couldn't be extradited... so was born the idea of setting his novel in a coastal New England town and centering it on a character that resembled the former world leader. {googleads}

The ghost soon finds himself completing the memoirs in an oddly deserted fishing village where Lang and his family have holed themselves up to avoid the scrutiny of the press and angry protesters. The only thing more curiously prevalent than the beefed up private security at the concrete compound, is Lang's lack of recollection of his rise to power. He says his wife, Ruth (Olivia Williams) first got him interested in politics. Yet when the ghost later discovers his subject had political ties even before he ever met his wife, the writer begins to realize there's something more beneath the surface. And it might have something to do with the demise of his predecessor.

Like in all of his films, there are many layers to Polanski's Ghost Writer, that when peeled back, reveal a struggle to get at the truth that festers just beneath the surface... the truth in this case being disclosed in a similar manner to Rosemary's Baby. In that film, the clues came about from an anagram in a book whereas here the riddle is planted within the manuscript of the memoir. But to compare The Ghost Writer to any of Polanski's previous films on anything more than a stylistic level is meaningless. His first contemporary thriller in more than 20 years represents a fresh new turn by the filmmaker who hasn't lost his unique verve and brilliant sense of storytelling. It's interesting to note the irony in the fact that Polanski edited the film while under house arrest in Switzerland fighting extradition to the United States.

McGregor is actually quite good in his first meaty dramatic role in some time. He plays nicely against Williams's Ruth, who grows stronger and stronger as the plot unfolds. It's always good to see Tom Wilkinson who can play charmingly sinister as well as any actor in the business today. He's a Harvard professor who is loath to reveal any connections to Lange - and for some reason, trouble always brews whenever a pesky writer starts snooping around the professor's place.

The Ghost Writer
is not necessarily a brainy thriller that will challenge the audience on some cerebrally superior level. It doesn't have to be. The fun comes from watching the ghost get to the bottom of the mystery. The ordinary guy spirals deeper and deeper into the dangerous web of deceit and treachery that might involve the United States government. It's a tightening knot of noir fascination that involves mysterious bodyguards, car chases, top-secret documents, the CIA and even hidden codes.



Blu-ray Details:

Available on Blu-ray - August 3, 2010
Screen Formats: 2.35:1
: English SDH, Spanish
English: DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1; Spanish: Dolby Digital 5.1
Discs: BD-59 (BD/DVD flipper disc); Single disc (1 BD)

This is the first disc from Summit to be a flip-styled Blu-ray, with one side HD and the other SD for regular DVD players.  It’s an annoying feature and makes one think the thickness of the disc could potentially screw up their player.  Not sure why Summit saw fit to release the movie this way, but it is.  That being said, the 1080p AVC MPEG-4 AVC encoded transfer (2.35:1 aspect ratio) is gorgeous.  Heavily saturated with dark and grayish tones, the saturation levels nicely match the overall mood of the movie.

While the surround channels weren’t utilized to any great extent, the disc does handle its DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 mix well.  However, the Blu-ray does NOT fix the editing problem Polanski had in trying to avoid an ‘R’ rating from the MPAA.  There are several scenes in which the actors clearly use the word “fuck”, but they are audibly replaced with words like “bloody” and other swear words.  This is a smart movie, but the fact that this hasn’t been addressed and corrected is simply amateurish.  It is very distracting because it is so obvious.  Yes, it’s a minor criticism, but it is still significant since no attempts to disguise their mouths are made.  Note to future editions: FIX THIS, PLEASE.



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    • The Ghost Writer: Fiction or Reality (10:46): Screenwriter Robert Harris talks about aspects of his narrative.  Based on his book, he talks about collaborating with Polanski and how the movie was going to be narrated.  This is his interview and he talks at great lengths about the origin of the movie, its similarities with Tony Blair, and the secret code of the book.  Very intriguing information here.
    • The Cast of The Ghost Writer (11:49): This standard and fairly straightforward featurette is exactly as described by its title, the cast talks about working on the film and working with Polanski on this project.  They talk at great lengths about their roles and about the fact that they are working together to create a political thriller.  It is obvious that he had all his actor’s real and study the original book.  There are a few behind the scenes shots of Polanski directing his actors as an added bonus.
    • An Interview with Roman Polanski (8:39): Full of some nice behind the scenes moments, this lighthearted interview with Polanski is an all too brief affair that just skims the surface of bringing the book to the silver screen.


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