Film review – The Ghost Writer (2010)

27 August 2010
The Ghost Writer: Adam Lang (Pierce Brosnan) and The Ghost (Ewan McGregor)

Adam Lang (Pierce Brosnan) and The Ghost (Ewan McGregor)

Adam Lang (Pierce Brosnan) is a controversial former British Prime Minister who in order to complete his autobiography requires the assistance of a skilled ghost writer, especially since his last one died mysteriously. Enter the unnamed writer (Ewan McGregor) who is flown to Lang’s remote, wind-swept, compound-like island home. As the writer attempts to learn about Lang, some very disturbing secrets start to surface, forcing the writer to reassess his loyalties as choosing the wrong side may jeopardise his life.

This political thriller is a return to the more straightforward genre filmmaking that director Roman Polanski has previously indulged in with successful films like Frantic and less successful films such as The Ninth Gate. For the most part it is an atmospheric and intriguing film but it does suffer from a slightly naff ending and some very stodgy dialogue. Also, the acting at times comes dangerous close to being wooden. Nevertheless, mystery fans will find plenty to enjoy about The Ghost Writer and Polanski does an excellent job evoking an increasing sense of paranoia and danger. The very final shot is certainly as skilfully composed as anything he has done before.

Originally appeared in The Big Issue, No. 361, 2010

© Thomas Caldwell, 2010

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MIFF 2010 Diary: Pre Festival – Part 3

22 July 2010

Notes on some of the MIFF films getting a general release

Winter's Bone

Winter's Bone

I used to recommend that people don’t go to films in the festival that already have an Australian distributor attached to them (and are therefore likely to get released) because that was a waste of a ticket but I don’t abide by that anymore. For a start, seeing a film at the festival is so much more enjoyable than going to a regular session at the local cinema. There’s more a sense of occasion plus festival audiences seem to be less inclined to talk, play with their phones and eat three course meals throughout the film. Also, because not all the films always end up getting cinematic releases – especially the ones that have no confirmed release date yet. As Cerise Howard notes on her list of films with Australian distributors, many of them may be destined to go straight to DVD.

Two of the films in the festival that I’ve seen that are getting released soon are The Special Relationship and Despicable Me. The Special Relationship is a dramatisation of the dynamic between Tony Blair and Bill Clinton while Despicable Me is a 3D computer animation about a super villain, sort of in the vein of The Incredibles. Both are films worth seeing but not ones I’d personally give priority to at the festival.

Of more interest is Debra Granik’s new film Winter’s Bone about a teenage girl trying to track down her methamphetamine-making father in the ultra poor Missouri mountains community that she has the misfortunate of living in. I’m still not sure how I feel about this film because I found it such a depressing experience, although it also functions as a strong and tense mystery. There is a lot to admire about Winter’s Bone but I’m not so sure if I enjoyed it – although I guess that is sort of the point.

The other mystery of sorts that I’ve seen is Roman Polanski’s new film, the very atmospheric The Ghost Writer. While not in the same league as classics such as Repulsion and Chinatown, The Ghost Writer is one of Polanski’s better straightforward genre films.

Boy

Boy

I remember seeing New Zealand director Taika Waititi’s acclaimed short film Two Cars, One Night at a MIFF opening night years ago and absolutely loved it (it was certainly far superior to Somersault, which was meant to be the main attraction). While I wasn’t a big fan of Waititi’s first feature film Eagle vs Shark, his new film Boy is absolutely wonderful. It is so genuine and funny that it is little wonder it has taken the New Zealand box office by storm. Highly recommended.

The two MIFF films that I have seen that I am most excited about are the Cronenbergian Splice and Michael Winterbottom’s new film The Killer Inside Me, a neo noir with shades of Kiss Me Deadly and No County For Old Men. I suspect many others will not share my enthusiasm for both films to the same extent and these are certainly not films for everybody. While the visceral horror of Splice is more transgressively fun than anything seriously confronting, the violence in The Killer Inside Me is some of the most shocking violence I’ve seen in cinema for a very long time. However, I loved them both and will probably include them on my top ten films of 2010 list at the end of the year.

Thomas

© Thomas Caldwell, 2010

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