Rewind Review: The Ghost Writer

Introduction

As those who know me, and if such a person exists, cyberstalk me, know I created this blog after writing on another site, which shall remain nameless, for a while. The point is, I have material sitting around waiting to be re-used on occasion I will re-post them here. Some of those articles or reviews may have been extemporaneous at the time but are slightly random now, hence the new title and little intro, regardless enjoy!

The Ghost Writer (2010)

As much as one might try and protest to the contrary every film we see has a pre-life, which consists of our first hearing of it, seeing a trailer and things of the like. While these things may not ultimately color our opinion of the film they do make part of the experience. The fact that The Ghost Writer is a Roman Polanski film is not irrelevant both to the pre-life and to the film itself. The pre-life is even more affected by the fact that this is potentially Polanski’s last film. As sad as it is to admit Polanski’s recent arrest may garnered this film more distribution and attention than it was likely to get. It was picked up by Summit Entertainment and in a move that did somewhat affect the end product they pushed for a PG-13 rating and dubbed over a few F-Bombs noticeably. While this did allow a few open-minded locals who can separate the artist and the man to bring their kids to see it, it is unlikely to boost the audience that much and it didn’t make the film any better.
Another palpable way in which Polanski’s situation affected the film was in filming locations. The film is set mostly on an island off the coast of Massachusetts but clearly it could not have been filmed there. However, having not known that fact it’d be hard to decipher visually. The German locations were scouted perfectly and were fantastic and added an extra dimension to the tale.
The cast of this film is nearly flawless with the noticeable exception of a very small part the Michelle Obama-like US Secretary of State played by Mo Asumang. In this cast you have the small appearance by a legend in Eli Wallach in a spectacular scene, an actor playing against type in James Belushi and a very strong dramatic core with Ewan McGregor easily playing the protagonist unwittingly thrown into political intrigue, Pierce Brosnan as the mysterious former Prime Minister, Olivia Williams as the strong-headed wife, Tom Wilkinson as the cryptic college professor and Kim Cattrall as the PM’s personal secretary. It’s a combination of talent, character and material that is nearly impossible to top.
The Ghost Writer is a film that is truly Hitchcockian, which is a rarity. Hitchockian is a phrase most people will bandy about as irresponsibly as “feel good.” It would seem that almost any suspense film that is successful to any degree in the past 30 years has been given this moniker by one critic or another yet few, if any, ever reach the tension created in a Hitchcock vehicle, which consists of a tautness so palpable it brings to mind the Gene Wilder line from Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory “The suspense is terrible…I hope it lasts.”
It is also a film that wastes no time and has the intrigue begin as soon as MacGregor lands job as the replacement ghost writer. First, he has to operate under a ridiculous deadline and then he is mugged and has the wrong manuscript stolen from him on the street. Slowly but surely with increasing tension and rising stakes the routine nature of this assignment is stripped away and the mystery comes front and center and we start getting closer to the truth. Each revelation is more fascinating than the last and nothing is ever apparent each twist and turn in the tale is a pleasant surprise.

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Key to the success of a film like this is the scoring and Alexandre Desplat’s work on this film is nothing short of spectacular. It’s not the most overwhelming score but it pulls the right strings and ratchets up the tension at the right moments with the proper effects.
The Ghost Writer is a truly great film and an instantly classic thriller that you should seek out. While it’s too soon to know if this is Polanski’s swan song if it is it is such an incredibly high note to end on. Absolutely top notch.
10/10

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Review- Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Part 2

Daniel Radcliffe, Emma Watson and Rupert Grint in Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Part 2 (Warner Bros.)

It’s not easy to see a series you love come to a close. It becomes more difficult when you happen to be traveling when that final chapter receives its worldwide release. The difficulties I encountered trying to obtain tickets to a Harry Potter screening in Brazil may make an apropos footnote in another post but here they serve the purpose of stating that: it was hard to say goodbye and therefore it seemed almost fitting that it was difficult for me to make it to my first screening of the film.

While I stand by what I wrote in my series of articles entitled Keys to a Better Life as a Fanboy, hindsight has been beneficial in my viewing of the Harry Potter series; some have aged better than others but I believe, more so with this series than others, that the whole is truly greater than the sum the parts. Only now having seen it all can I truly see the enormity of the series. Whereas in each individual installment there was nitpicking to be done, or ignored, and the franchise became the Susan Lucci of my personal awards, The BAMs, now that it’s at its conclusion I can say it’s the greatest film franchise I’ve beheld.

Now what of this installment, you ask?

Daniel Radcliffe and Emma Watson in Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Part 1 (Warner Bros.)

Firstly, the issue of cinematic bifurcation needs to be addressed. When Harry Potter announced they split the seventh book of the series into two films it became the thing to do. Twilight followed suit and it seems The Hunger Games will likely do the same and perhaps some others that I’m forgetting. Now I’m not naive enough to believe that the main motivation to do such a thing isn’t financial, however, there exists in this decision artistic possibilities and responsibilities: the possibilities being to cinematically craft as much of the adapted work as possible and the responsibility to make it vital. I also want to clarify that while there might not be the Shakespearean foresight to make a multi-part work such as Henry IV or Henry VI it also was not a decision made retroactively in the editing room so some jets need to be cooled regarding the split-finale phenomenon.

Michael Gambon and Daniel Radcliffe in Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince (Warner Bros.)

All series of films have their own inherent logic and language and thus they develop their own shorthand and therefore the bifurcation becomes much less of an issue. This, of course, does not mean that you could walk in cold to Deathly Hallows, Part 2 and get absolutely everything (an example would be how quick and dirty the Polyjuice potion usage is in this film) but conversely I don’t want to be able to walk into the end of a series cold and be able to watch it without wondering what’s happening at some point because it usually means that at some point the integrity of the series has been compromised.

So yes, this film does stand tall on its own as a self-contained piece of art with the above caveats noted. As the trend progresses other films will have this as a barometer as how to handle this adaptation phenomena. My feeling is that works which have distinct tonal differences in the beginning and the end, as this does, (going from foreboding progressing to all out chaos) will be more successful in pulling off this trick.

What this film ultimately does is deliver the desired conclusion to this mammoth story in the desired fashion. The pace of the film can best be described as a slow but steady depression of an accelerator and a very slow release at the end, which for the narrative being conveyed is just about perfect. Mark Day, the editor who has been the unsung hero of the tail end of this franchise, does his best work in this film. He creates the best montage I’ve seen since Up and perhaps surpassed it.

Daniel Radcliffe in Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix (Warner Bros.)

Much like the pace of the film the tone is also established immediately. In a fashion not dissimilar to the recent X-Men film the film opens with a series of tense, brilliantly acted interrogatory scenes. The heroic triad is immediately gathering information and plotting their next move.

These scenes are also brilliantly and dramatically lit and also establishes the visual motif of camera movement which is not altogether foreign to Eduardo Serra and it just adds that much more tension and gravitas to all the proceedings.

I try and avoid departmental punchlists replete with commentary but the production and crafting of this film make it such that it’s nearly impossible to avoid. Alexandre Desplat has quickly catapulted to the A-List amongst film composers and his work in this film is absolutely sublime, it’s omnipresent but not overpowering and over-accentuating the film, it’s there for the taking if you want it and if you listen to it in isolation it’s amazing but in conjunction with the imagery sheer brilliance.

Emma Watson, Rupert Grint and Daniel Radcliffe in Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire (Warner Bros.)

The Harry Potter films have also been through the years a bastion for lovers of ensemble acting, what’s most enjoyable about this film is that there are a number of paired scenes wherein the supporting players really get a chance to shine and have their moment and each one is more staggeringly great than the last. While I’d definitely contend that the Deathly Hallows, Part 1 was the showcase for Radcliffe, Watson and Grint, however, it should be noted that it is usually they who paired off with these supporting characters like John Hurt as Ollivander who here is pitch perfect and has more screentime than in the rest of the series combined. There’s also Ciarán Hinds who plays Aberforth. Warwick Davis, who does double duty as Griphook and Professor Flitwick, has a very tense scene as the former and is incredibly versatile. Then you also have among the supporting cast the incomparable Alan Rickman who over the course of eight films has steered his character unerringly along a very subtle and incredible arc.

Alan Rickman in Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban (Warner Bros.)

Perhaps what sticks with you most about the film though is the beautiful chaos of it all. The film does not bow down to the artifice of its artform and focus too singularly on any one tragic occurrence and just takes it all in as quick as one might in that moment. Some things just happen and you learn about it when characters do and you don’t know the how and the where just the result.

It almost goes without saying that the effects are outstanding and are the best and most blended of the series. As for the 3D I have not seen it as such but I do want to and have heard that for a conversion it’s a job well done for a detailed summation of that aspect I’d point you towards CinemaBlend who does a great series about the 3D or not 3D conundrum.

Daniel Radcliffe in Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets (Warner Bros.)

One of the barometers for the Harry Potter films, and for films in general, that I like to use is how is the ending handled. Now not that it’s a make or break but you do want the film’s last moment to leave a good, lasting impression. For example, I think that The Prisoner of Azkaban really dropped the ball with an ending that was tonally discordant when the darker chapters had just begun and a bit more restraint was needed. This film, however, ends perfectly and as I’d expected the epilogue was more effective on the big screen than it was in the book as it seemed to be created for the big screen.

It is my assessment that Harry Potter is the greatest franchise I’ve beheld and it is to my delight and relief that it has concluded with the greatest cinematic chapter it has yet told.

10/10

Emma Watson, Rupert Grint and Daniel Radcliffe in Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone (Warner Bros.)