The Ghost Writer

a film by Roman Polanski

There has been a lot of talk about Roman Polanski lately - much of it at the director's expense (rightfully or wrongully) - but very little of it has been about the man's actual movies. We probably shouldn't go into the whole tabloid-flavoured debate here, in what is supposed to be a film review, instead leaving such dangerous rhetoric for the sensationalists amongst us to battle back and forth with. I will say that what happened might have been wrong (though what did happen is between two people who buried their proverbial habits years ago!) but in no way does it affect the man as an auteur. Polanski, like Charlie Chaplin, Elia Kazan and Woody Allen before and after him, has had his work judged on the merits of his personality and the things that personality has done - not on his actual work. Ezra Pound and T.S. Eliot were raging anti-Semites, and though their racism may have coloured their writing (as anyone's personal beliefs are prone to do) it never diminished their voices as two of the greatest poets of the last century.

Now I am not comparing Polanski to Pound and/or Eliot, nor am I equating their racial hatred with the issues plaguing the Polish director, but I am saying one can still create great works of art without being a great person (whether Polanski is a great person or not is also an assumption I am not willing to make here). Then again, to veer away from the very tabloid muckraking I promised not to get into in the first place, Polanski's work here in The Ghost Writer seems to suffer, not from what everybody is saying about him per se, but from a tiredness that may stem from having to read and listen to what everybody is saying about him anyway. Taking a page of sorts from his own public problems (Pierce Brosnan's ex-prime minister finds himself a prisoner of the media much like a certain filmmaker!) Polanski paints his thriller with the broad strokes of his own reality. The problem is, Polanski I am sure is tired of what is going on in his life, and in being so tired, it comes through in his work.

Olivia Williams’ performance as the requisite femme fatale is quite enjoyable (the appropriate blend of dark sex appeal and worrisome angst) and Brosnan and Ewan McGregor's tête-à-têtes highlight this otherwise tired Polanski thriller. The Ghost Writer is certainly not up there with Chinatown in the Polanski oeuvre (not much is), but it does have its moments, even if the film as a whole seems tired and the so-called climax is about as see-through (not to mention unsatisfactorily lame) as anything the director has ever done (though the final 45 seconds or so are quite remarkable!). In the end though, unlike The Pianist (the film Polanski won the Oscar for but could not show up to accept it for fear of incarceration) the power of this film (which is touch and go throughout) is not enough to wipe our slates clean of the tabloid fodder inherent in such a production. [03/22/10]