Saturday, August 14, 2010

The Ghost Writer

2010, France/Germany/UK, directed by Roman Polanski

Although several of the characters are thinly-veiled versions of real people, most obviously Adam Lang (Pierce Brosnan) as a Tony Blair facsimile, Roman Polanski is ultimately less interested in the correspondences with actual events, which are in any case pretty limited, but with surfaces and appearances, which makes for a disconcerting film where we're never quite sure what people know or admit. The central character, an unnamed ghost writer played by Ewan McGregor, is placed at the heart of a guessing game, although he seems to perceive it more as a sequence of physical clues - sometimes a touch obvious - rather than the hints and contradictions which surround him. Even the physical location of the film - a windswept island fortress/summer home - seems unreal, with a picture window that has the feel of a screen, concealing as much as it reveals.

Polanski's construction is impeccable, both within the individual shots - the placement of his characters within the frame reveals much about both their power and perceived power - and in terms of overall architecture, with plot revelations carefully dispensed to create the sense of jigsaw pieces falling pleasurably into place (a sensation just as satisfying on a second viewing). The only dissonance that took me outside the world of the film was caused by own familiarity with the actual locations, and on one occasion, during a sequence supposed to conjure up an air of malevolence and danger in Belmont, it was hard to suppress a smile given that Belmont is an unthreatening suburb with no lonely roads that even vaguely resemble those assigned to it by Polanski and his team.

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Boston, Massachusetts, United States