Wednesday, August 25, 2010
Cast: Ewan McGregor, Pierce Brosnan, Olivia Williams, Kim Cattrall
Director: Roman Polanski
Runtime: 128 min.
The Ghost Writer is too contemporary. The ridiculously adolescent paranoia of a Robert Ludlum novel, or for that matter this one here, written by Robert Harris, is perfect entertainment, but preposterous conspiracy theories work well only when the historical events are past enough to be shrouded in an air of mystery. Or still better, the events within the novel are disguised so convincingly and made so specific and self-sustaining, that the realization these events somehow allude to those real events ought to be the reader’s/viewer’s prerogative. I mean, wanting to draw political mileage and thus harboring ambitions of relevance and importance – by disguising Halliburton as Hatherton, or a Condoleezza Rice lookalike – is merely trying to be pretentious, and more importantly greedy to have the cake and eat it too. What you rather end up having, with this kind of redundant disguising and mapping is that the audience already has the memo, and they already know the broad equations, and if your film isn’t smart enough to stay ahead (which The Ghost Writer isn’t, it merely confirms one hour later what we already knew within the first minute), then you’re probably lazy not to look down and see you just stepped on the self-destruct button.
Mr. Polanski has written the film. That is pretty self-evident in the way the narrative is structured. Mr. Polanski has always had the instincts of the horror genre. His protagonists tend to be alone, and they tend to walk onto an island (literally/figuratively), which typically happens to be the setting of the tale. This setting is the classic horror convention – a set of people walking into an unknown area, and we holding our breath in anticipation of what would jump from off screen as they take every step. These steps are what give the horror genre its chops, and this is the tension that we seek. The horror genre works best in situations of paranoia, where every face and every corner is a possible threat. The Ghost Writer is competent that way. Problem is, you’re pulled right out of that illusion when you see Hatherton. I mean, these are the kind of smug disguises that could be taken to court, and probably sued, and even win the damn thing. It could be argued, you know. And as Kyle Smith (a Republican) says in his justly dismissive review of the film –
Also, you can't have it both ways with sinister international decade-spanning conspiracies. Either nefarious agencies can see 30 years into the future and secretly yank every string from DC to Downing Street, or they're too incompetent to pull off the simple assassination of an unarmed hack on a lonely country road. Not both.
(Smith’s otherwise redundant and uninteresting review could be read here.)
Most of the other genre stuff is pretty much there. The lonely nights. Sparse population. Unrecognizable men in overcoats. Rains. Suspicious men casting suspicious glances over their glasses. If you say it is corny, it sure as hell is. And intellectual it isn’t. As has always been the case with Mr. Polanski’s politics, it is contradictory and just a step above those pointless tirades hurled against the system. Mr. Polanski, in most of his films, takes us one step further. He places the common man in place of the system, and then shows he is just about as capable. But then, there’s always the paranoia. The conspiracy that causes this common man to be rendered helpless. So yeah, I ask, if you can always find a reason, and often a preposterous one, to hide your guilt and the evil inside of you, and deflect it towards the general direction of the Immoral Enterprise, is it really any good? I don’t know about Mr. Polanski’s beliefs but I guess it was not Satan who was responsible for Eve eating the apple, it was Eve and Adam themselves. Chances are, Satan never even crawled on that tree. Calvin and Hobbes sure is the answer to everything.
Posted by Satish Naidu at 12:39 PM