“The Ghost Writer”

Rated PG-13 for language, brief nudity/sexuality, some violence and a drug reference.

Since I do not live in a large city, certain films, usually the kind of “art” films that win prestigious awards, saunter into town months after the official opening date; long after the film reviewers (urban residents all) and cultural commentators have had an eternity to blabber and blather about it. Understandably, I am forced to ignore these films because by the time they get to me, they are about to hit the DVD market and I want my readers to get the latest cinema news from me. However, this last weekend I had the choice among the aforementioned “art” film, “The Ghost Writer.” and two rather low-rent films. One was about vivisecting people who are late in paying off their mechanical transplanted organs and the other about a nerdy individual improbably getting to date a certain “hottie.” I hope my readers will forgive me for picking the “alleged” work of art: “The Ghost Writer.” I wanted to see what all the hoopla was about.

This film was directed by the notorious Roman Polanski. Since 1977, Mr. Polanski has avoided an arrest warrant by staying in Europe , away from American legal authorities. His troubles are the result of an unwise dip in the hot tub which included some immoral, and illegal, “water sports” with a minor. But enough about that; on to the film.

The “The Ghost Writer” is highly regarded by film critics. Most consider it brilliant. Now it is my turn. I think “The Ghost Writer” is a well crafted, almost perfect, generous slice of tripe. (Yes, I wrote “tripe.”) If you can dress up a pig, with obvious warts, to look like a runway model, “The Ghost Writer” is it.

The book is by the world famous novelist Robert Harris. Here is his storyline: a rather handsome and dashing former British Prime Minister named Adam Lang, (think Tony Blair), played by Pierce Brosnan, has resigned from office and now is being charged with war crimes. He is accused of turning over some British citizens to the CIA to be tortured. Conveniently, the former Prime Minister is in the United States and beyond the jurisdiction of the World Court . In fact, he is on Martha’s Vineyard . Thanks to the soundtrack, the blustery fall Massachusetts weather and the skill of Polanski, it is one spooky, grim, and gray place.

The PM is in Massachusetts to finish his memoirs. Unfortunately, he needs a ghost writer and his first one was found mysteriously drowned. The corpse’s replacement (a man with no name) is played by Ewan McGregor. “The Ghost” realizes something is hinky right off. This may be because he sees James Belushi with a shaved head impersonating a publisher or Timothy Hutton playing, with dry sliminess, the PM’s American lawyer. “The Ghost” is totally convinced that something is awry when he meets a “vineyard old man” played by the inimitable Eli Wallach (who has the best line in the entire movie). “The Ghost” also meets the uber-creepy Professor Paul Emmet played rather effeminately by actor Tom Wilkinson.

I favorably compared the movie “ Shutter Island ” recently to the work of Alfred Hitchcock. I could say that “The Ghost” has similar artistic and political thriller touches but that would risk repeating myself. So I won’t.

However, I really got annoyed by several trifles in “The Ghost Writer.” At one point, “The Ghost” does a Google search and discovers that there is something “evil” about Paul Emmet. When he tells all this to the PM’s primary accuser, a rather odious character who was the sacked Foreign Secretary (for the PM), this former ultra-high official, is shocked. SHOCKED! Apparently nobody in the British Foreign Secretary’s office knows how to Google! Shame on MI6. There are many other improbabilities that made my eyes roll, but maybe the blatant anti-Bush (if not anti-American) tone permitted these leapfrog movements over logic. The point-of-view is so one-sided, in “The Ghost Writer,” that even vegetarian, anti-war Liberals have to wince with embarrassment. Mr. Harris and Mr. Polanski get no “marks” for political subtlety from me.

All that being written, it is a well done thriller. The acting is tight and appropriately disturbing. The “environment” of the film almost makes up for the clunky political agenda.

One last point: films like this always make me wonder if the CIA is so terribly omnipotent, why can't it find a certain Saudi named Bin Laden and whack him with a BMW?

“The Ghost Writer” earns four out of five bow ties.

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