Published at: Feb. 25, 2010, 10:41 a.m. CST by merrick
Hola all. Massawyrm here.
I hate that I have to even talk about this, but such is the nature of our polarized world. We enjoy getting worked up about things; we love having something to rant and rave about. I’m no different; I have my moments. But this is not one of them. When it comes to artists, it is very important that we separate the man from the art. Sure, some argue that they are inseparable, but that’s not always the case. Even when it is the case, it is often the despicable nature of a man’s character that makes him such an interesting artist. I have a passionate love for the works of the beat writers, but if Jack Kerouac were hanging out at my place I’d probably want to punch him in the face every time she showed up drunk, screwed my wife and then stole my car. He wrote a book about doing that. You might have read it. But I’d still send out his mail for him – like all those letters to that druggie buddy of his on the lamb from the law in Mexico after he killed his wife. You know, William S. Burroughs.
The list of people who have done incredible things while simultaneously being terrible human beings is long and no doubt incomplete. Perverts, murderers, thieves, addicts, bullies, abusers, rapists – we’ve exalted our fair share of small scale tyrants over the years as we admire the beautiful things they’ve been able to conjure by force of will alone. And Roman Polanski is among them. He’s a genius, a brilliant filmmaker with a passion for film only matched by the breadth of his vision. And he’s made what may actually be his very last film.
One of the things that has made me the most proud about being an AICN writer is that from the beginning Harry has shied away from what has become an incredibly powerful click culture of gossip mongering. He doesn’t care about who’s screwing who; he cares about whether or not you can make a good film. In the almost 9 years I’ve been writing here, he’s only censored me for content once – a review in which I cheap-shotted a director over his child molesting past. Even then Harry didn’t cut the offending paragraph; instead he called me and said “We don’t do that. It’s your call, you’re the writer, but I think you’re better than that.” He was right; the review was better served focusing upon the weakness of the film and not the history of its maker.
If you would like to hear my thoughts on what I think of Roman Polanski as a human being, buy me a beer, have a seat with me and I will give you an earful that will singe your eyebrows. (Be prepared to not get a word in edgewise.) But as a filmmaker, the man has made a new film titled THE GHOST WRITER and it happens to be really, really fucking good.
THE GHOST WRITER is the story of British Prime Minister Adam Lang, a thinly veiled Tony Blair who has spent the last decade as both the steward of his nation and as the puppet of the US government. Now in retirement, he is collecting together his notes for his memoir MY LIFE when his longtime advisor and ghost writer is surreptitiously murdered. Enter the protagonist, Ewan McGregor (who we know as The Ghost), a professional ghost writer assigned to clean up the mess that the book is currently in. But as our Ghost finds himself sinking further and further into the dark muck of political intrigue, he begins to discover things he probably shouldn’t know, putting his life in danger and threatening to reveal secrets so large that they could rock nations. Maybe that’s why the last guy got killed.
The film is Polanski at his finest, delivering a slow, methodical story with perpetually rising tension, riddled with twists and turns in the classic paranoid style you’ve come to expect out of him. This is the type of thriller we often pine for and lament missing while watching many of the thrillers of today. The Ghost is no superman, he’s a normal man whose superior intelligence and curiosity only manage to get him so far before he finds himself in over his head and dealing with the sorts of people that are clearly far more clever than he. This isn’t the sort of (sleazy) thriller that Ewan McGregor is accustomed to starring in. It is more akin to THE CONVERSATION than anything else in this day and age.
There is just something about the classic way Polanski frames his shots, the way he lingers with the camera, the way he shoots from afar when most modern directors would opt for a medium shot or a series of close ups. The whole production feels vintage, like an arcane piece of film that resurfaced after disappearing sometime in the 70’s before anyone ever got a chance to look at it; neither in look nor era, of course, as the flourishes in the film are all very modern – especially in regards to the political climate that the film is set in – but simply in the way the film feels: its visual style and pacing.
Moody, bold and incredibly pessimistic, the film is unmistakably Polanski’s.
The film’s only real problem is a strange bit of distraction. Set on an Island on the east coast of the united states, there are a number of scenes shot on something akin to the Kennedy compound, with large bay windows overlooking sand dunes and the sea. Problem is that it appears that Polanski used green screens and digitally added the background, making a number of shots look a bit cheaper than this film clearly should. While it is not a big budget epic, it certainly has a hell of a lot more production value than a SyFy Original Movie, but several shots here hint otherwise and mar an otherwise gritty and carefully constructed visual atheistic.
Polanski has made one of the best political thrillers in recent years – but most importantly one possessing one of the best endings of any of these films. While in this day and age political thrillers are far from the type of thing to set the world alight, preventing this film from being something people do backflips over, I put it firmly in the same category with SHUTTER ISLAND. This is the type of film you’ve seen several times before, but is that version of the story told by a master, given all the weight and subtlety you’d expect from someone who has devoted their lifetime to mastering their craft. In other words: sure, it’s nothing new, it’s just really good.
Until next time friends, smoke ‘em if ya got ‘em.