Critics love to lament that no one is making smart, sophisticated political thrillers on the level of THE PARALLAX VIEW and THREE DAYS OF THE CONDOR anymore. So leave it to a contemporary of Alan J. Pakula and Sydney Pollack to turn back the clock and give us a film that is as ambiguous and challenging as those films were, while also delivering his most accomplished thriller since THE TENANT.
Go ahead and derail this talkback with whatever, but know this: as a filmmaker, Roman Polanski is back in a big, big way with THE GHOST WRITER. Adapted by Robert Harris (author of the excellent FATHERLAND and ENIGMA) from his own novel, the film is about a mildly successful non-fiction hack (Ewan McGregor) who lands the plum gig of shaping the memoirs of a recently ousted British Prime Minister (Pierce Brosnan) - who bears a none-too-subtle resemblance to Tony Blair. The opportunity is there for the taking because the PM's former ghost writer washed up dead on a beach somewhere close to Martha's Vineyard. The only downside to the assignment is the PM's potentially unlawful participation in secretly shipping British citizens/suspected terrorists off to Guantanamo Bay for the ol' Jack Bauer treatment.
Though the story is something of a slow burn, Polanski runs the film at a brisk pace, eschewing opening credits in favor of getting into the duplicitous goings-on as quickly as possible. There are the usual intrigues (double-crosses, infidelities, carefully scrubbed pasts), but Polanski and Harris approach these conventions with a self-aware cheekiness: i.e. the characters are cognizant of the part they're playing in this oft-told drama, but they're powerless to opt out - so they wearily give in. At its best, THE GHOST WRITER feels like Polanski's lightly absurd take on ALL THE PRESIDENT'S MEN. And it's an unusually vigorous film for a seventy-six-year-old director.
It's the kind of film that usually gets held until November, but if you live in New York or Los Angeles, you'll be getting it this February 19th. The film will then go wide sometime in March. I'll be back with a full review in a few weeks.