Say what you want about Roman Polanski (referring here to his personal life, etc.) but the guy makes a great film.  He’s best known for Rosemary’s Baby (creepy), The Pianist (Adrien Brody), and Chinatown (pre-romantic-comedy Jack Nicholson), but I think The Ghost Writer may be his most complete film.

The film concerns a ghostwriter (Ewen McGregor) who is hired, last-minute, to replace his deceased predecessor in finishing the memoirs of a former British Prime Minister (Pierce Brosnan).  It took home a truckload of awards in Europe, but did very little in the States.  Things that are great about this film in no particular order:

1. Polanski’s use of score gives it a semi-playful, stylized feel, even though it’s a Hitchcock-esque, edge-of-your-seat kind of experience.  Come to think of it, Hitchcock did the same things vis-a-vis score.

2. The film perfectly captured what it’s like to be a ghostwriter for a famous person.  I did my first famous-person ghostwriting gig this year and could very much relate to the off-balance, “I’m here but I’m not really here” vibe that the Ewan McGregor character experienced throughout the film.  It’s the kind of vibe that says, “You exist but only when I (famous person) want/need you to exist.”

3. That vibe made it all the more awkward/meaningful when McGregor’s character uncovered secrets that could/would put his life in danger.

4. This movie co-starred Olivia Williams who was the teacher in Rushmore.  Sigh.  I love that movie.  If you haven’t seen Rushmore, stop reading this and go rent it immediately because it involves two of my favorite non-real (to me) people (Wes Anderson, director; Bill Murray).  Of course, the problem with how perfect her character in Rushmore was, is that I want her to be that character in every movie…and in this movie she was nothing like that character.  Anyway.

5. This movie did great things with both lighting and loneliness.  It was a dimly lit movie (good – perfect for the vibe) but it wasn’t the kind of dimly lit movie where you can’t see what’s actually happening onscreen and you get tired of the dimness (one critique of Lord of the Rings…I just wanted to constantly turn on a light).  And the fact that the McGregor character is alone in many settings (a boat-ferry dock, a beach, hotel rooms, his client’s office, etc.) adds to the sense of creepiness and foreboding…and also the sense that he doesn’t have any real, lasting relationships.

6. Political intrigue.  I’m usually not all that big on political intrigue, in general, but this movie does it well.

7. A dark, art-house ending.  I’m also usually not all that big on dark, art-house endings but this movie does it really, really well.  It ends in the only way it can end which will make sense after you watch it.

8. It’s about writing/publishing.  I told my wife before the movie, “I like watching films about my job but only if they glamorize/glorify it.”  This film didn’t exactly do that (but it still kinda did), but I still enjoyed it.

Aside:  I also recently watched From Paris With Love and it was awesome as well, albeit in a completely different way.  It featured a shaven-headed, ultra-clever John Travolta killing about 55 people by himself over the span of about two hours.  Of course (caveat), it’s one of those movies in which you just completely disregard all of the human lives that are being taken (as it were) and just decide to enjoy all of the banter/masculinity while at the same time ignoring all of the irreparable psychological damage that all of that killing would do to a person.

I’m working on this theory of film where, for a film to be interesting, it has to be almost equal in terms of portraying the doctrine of total depravity (this, I think, is what makes a movie quote/unquote real – Tarantino does this part well) and also portraying or illustrating the fact that we are created in God’s image (this is where redemptive themes are possible – weirdly Tarantino does this well in Inglorious Basterds but not really in any of his other films…but this isn’t a Tarantino article, is it?).  From Paris With Love got the totally depraved part right and it also flirted with the God’s image part (man’s need for justice, excellence, etc.), though not enough to redeem it in my mind.

A friend said that watching the movie would increase my “man cards.”  Not that I needed it…and not that I’m the kind of guy who needs to sort of feed some juvenile sense of masculinity by only watching/talking about movies where a bunch of people get killed and stuff gets blown up.  Still, that said, my friend was totally right and it totally worked on that level.


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