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

61 Days of Halloween: Sisters (1973)

Introduction

For an introduction to the concept of 61 Days of Halloween, and a list of previously featured titles, please go here.

Sisters (1973)

One of the good things about going off a list, at least in part, to decide on viewing options is that it allows for more occasions for you to be a blank slate. A lot of the selections I’m seeing for this year are from Stephen King’s list of the best horror films from 1950-1980 that he included in his book Danse Macabre. I have replicated the list on my Letterboxd page (check it out!).

When I received Sisters from Netflix I knew it was De Palma and before Carrie and that’s all I could remember. Thankfully, the synopsis on the disc mailer didn’t give too much away.

On a personal note this may be my favorite film I’ve seen that set mostly on Staten Island. I had no idea that was coming and how it’s introduced is great: Danielle (Margot Kidder) is a Quebecois model/actress, and after a gig her and Philip (Lisle Wilson) have dinner and have it cut short by her ex (Emile Breton). Philip offers to take her home. She tells him she lives on Staten Island, and it goes something like this:
“Staten Island?” he says.
“Yes, Staten Island is part of New York isn’t it?”
Philip, smiling, says: “I guess it is.”

I was born in Manhattan, but I spent most of my formative years on Staten Island, and that statement in a nutshell is the conundrum of being from there; that whole “We’re New York too, dammit” subtext. A short exchange of dialogue encapsulates it on both sides.

Personal baggage aside, Sisters is a great little gem. I use that term because it starts with a fairly small series of events one after another that slowly turn in to a much bigger plot than was intimated at first. The simple Hitchcockian mystery element gets more byzantine as it progresses; even throwing some last second misdirection, making certain things even weirder than they are.

The first suspenseful passage features, yet another recently-viewed example of, a great use of split-screens. It’s a film that’s tied up in the psychology of its characters, their relationship to one another and secrets buried in the past.

In a certain way there were also parts of it that reminded me of Cronenberg as there were weird, significant things afoot with few characters noticing or being affected.

With scoring by the legendary Bernard Herrmann this film is quite the riveting pulse-pounder with a few jaw-dropping moments in store for those who do see it.