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THE GHOST WRITER
Blu-ray Edition

Review by Gordon Justesen

Stars: Ewan McGregor, Pierce Brosnan, Kim Cattrall, Olivia Williams, Tom Wilkinson, Timothy Hutton, Jon Bernthal, David Rintoul, Robert Pugh, Eli Wallach
Director: Roman Polanski
Audio: DTS HD 5.1, Dolby Digital 5.1
Video: Anamorphic Widescreen 2.35:1
Studio: Summit
Features: See Review
Length: 128 Minutes
Release Date: August 3, 2010

"You're practically one of us now."

"I am?"

"You're the writer. That makes you an accomplice."

Film ****

The only thing that deeply saddens me about The Ghost Writer is that many will probably end up overlooking it or simply ignore it based their personal opinion of director Roman Polanski. My honest opinion has always been this; if you consider yourself a film admirer then in some cases you will have to learn to separate the individual from the artist. Polanski, no matter what one thinks of his personal life, remains one of cinema's most gifted filmmakers and this is one his greatest accomplishments to date.

And yet, it's quite hard to ignore Mr. Polanski's personal life while watching this film. The reason is because one of the lead characters is forced to confine himself to a certain location and is not allowed to set foot overseas due to an ongoing investigation regarding his conduct. It's as if Polanski, who completed this film shortly before his own legal matters resurfaced, had made the film having know the situation he was eventually going to find himself in.

But aside from the rather intriguing similarity, The Ghost Writer is the most masterful political thriller I've seen in a long time. It's also a riveting 128 minute reminder that Polanski is a pure master of paranoid suspense, and more so than any other living filmmaker. I would consider this film a terrifically fitting companion piece to his Chinatown, and maybe his single best work since his 1974 masterpiece.

This adaptation of the novel “The Ghost” by Robert Harris, who wrote the screenplay along with Polanski, represents pure suspense filmmaking right from its brilliant opening sequence. A ferry docks, and the cars aboard begin to drive off it...all but one. In the very next shot, we see a dead body washed upon the nearby shore. In this brief opening, Polanski illustrates the power of a carefully structured and revealing sequence.

We then cut to the title character (Ewan McGregor) who, and I didn't realize until after the fact, is nameless throughout the film. He's presented with a job offer by his agent to ghost write the autobiography of Adam Lang (Pierce Brosnan), the former Prime Minister of Britain. He's also being hired as a replacement, as the previous ghost writer seems to have committed suicide.

Lang, as it turns out, is a controversial political figure. He's currently being investigated by the international criminal court for suspicion of war crimes while in office. Because of this, Lang has been exiled from his home country until the investigation concludes, that begin the plot detail reflecting Polanski's real life situation.

Although he knows absolutely nothing about politics, the ghost tells the publisher that this can be a benefit. By that, he promises to cut straight through the political mumbo jumbo and get to the heart of Lang himself, since heart is what sells autobiographies. The publisher gives him only a month to finish the book and promises a hefty payday if done so.

Before long, the ghost is on an overnight flight and arrives at Lang's luxurious fortress of a home on Martha's Vineyard. He is greeted the politician's assistant, Amelia (Kim Cattrall), and is given access to the manuscript containing everything written so far. Then he finally meets Lang himself, who of course appears to be nothing like what the media and so many protesters are labeling him as.

But many twists and turns lay ahead, as the ghost comes across information regarding Lang's past never meant to be discovered. As a result, he is pursuing a few individuals who may or may not be tied to Lang prior to his political career. And as if he wasn't already way over his head, he ends up getting a little too close to Lang's wife, Ruth (Olivia Williams).

The name Hitchcock does tend to get mentioned a lot when reviewing thrillers or works by those who were clearly inspired by him. But it just so happens that this spectacular thriller does some of the most riveting evoking of Hitchcock that I have ever seen. And who better than Polanski to pull this off?

In scene after scene, The Ghost Writer follows one of the great Hitchcockian traditions, which is the everyday man getting entangled in extreme circumstances. And because Polanski does such a masterful job at revealing new details about the mystery surrounding Lang, you can't help but become increasingly involved in the ghost's search for the truth. You find yourself engrossed right up to the final frame, which is one of the greatest final shots in suspense cinema history...one that Hitchcock himself would be completely proud of.

In addition, the performances are top-notch all across the board. After giving his most bland performance to date in The Men Who Stare at Goats, Ewan McGregor delivers some of his best work to date in the title role. You buy him instantly as this character, and identify with him thoroughly since we want to get to the heart of the mystery just like he does.

And Pierce Brosnan is nothing short of fantastic in what is by far his most complex role to date. Lang remains something of an enigma through most of the story, and Brosnan's performance is superb in the way he brings personality to Lang, and yet sill makes the character a mystery, just as he should be. Brosnan has a magnificent scene late in the film that is, for my money, his best acting to date! We also get some stellar supporting work from Tom Wilkinson and Olivia Williams.

Not only is The Ghost Writer this year's most heavily underrated film, but it's the single best piece of cinematic suspense to surface in years. It's been so long since we were given a good old fashioned, high quality, paranoid-driven political thriller, and Roman Polanski has delivered to us a pure representation of that specific type of film, in addition to doing the greatest evoking of Hitchcock yet. THIS, ladies and gentleman, is how you make a thriller!

Bonus: Jim Belushi, who I thought had completely vanished from the movie world, has a brief role at the film's beginning as the publisher. It goes without saying that this is the best work he's done in probably two decades.

Video ***1/2

This Blu-ray release from Summit handles this stylish film quite terrifically. And that is saying something since the film carries a dreary/grayish look to it, perfectly reflecting the shades of gray regarding a number of characters. It's not necessarily the type of visual approach that's going to add up to a breathtaking looking presentation, but the 1080p delivers it in the best possible form. The interior shots, particularly that of Lang's beach side home, get more of a knockout treatment. This is also Summit's first stab at a Blu-ray/DVD combo disc, which is essentially a double sided disc with a version on each side. This was my first experience with such a release, and it may have been the format that kept the Blu-ray from looking even more fantastic. At any rate, it is a most superb presentation.

Audio ***

The DTS HD mix is a thoroughly solid sounding audio track for what is essentially a dialogue driven film. Every spoken word is heard in top-notch, tremendous form and the haunting score provided by Alexandre Desplat is indeed a presentation highlight! The Martha's Vineyard setting also provides some strong moments, such as the frequent sounds of crashing waves on the shore.

Features **

I was hoping for more than what was provided, but what is supplied on this Summit Blu-ray release is certainly better than nothing. Included are three featurettes; “The Ghost Writer: Fiction or Reality”, which mainly focuses on how author Robert Harris went about adapting his novel, “The Cast of The Ghost Writer”, which features brief interview segments with the main cast members and an eight minute interview with Roman Polanski himself!

Summary:

I love me a good thriller, and I REALLY love me a good thriller when it's exceedingly well crafted, well executed and represents the best of what the genre has to offer. That's precisely what The Ghost Writer is. It's one of 2010's greatest films and is one of Roman Polanski's best cinematic achievements. He, more so than any other living filmmaker, knows how to make a fantastic, paranoid-driven piece of suspense!

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