Great Movies I

film 2 of 5

The Ghost Writer

Film Review by Dean Duncan Jun 2, 2015

That house! Here’s a filmmaker at the top of his considerable powers, and an ensemble of collaborators at the top of theirs. The young firebrand who made Knife in the Water and Repulsion has become positively magisterial, a complete master in every cinematic sense of the word. He’s just as powerful at a conceptual or thematic level, and just as darkly so as he’s almost always been. The Ghost Writer is a septuagenarian’s thriller, ample with time and space, the better to have the dark clouds lower and the winds howl through.

As for politics, I’m left to wonder if it’s possible to address issues of power in a way that doesn’t reduce them to mere MacGuffin status. (The term/concept is explored in the illuminating lo-ong interview book, Truffaut/Hitchcock, 1967). Yes Tony Blair, and yes the director’s own house arrest, but ultimately I suspect that this film’s topical material is merely functional. It’s the artist-of-anxiety stuff, the patterns and resolutions—you just know what’s going to happen when the Ewan MacGregor character walks out of that frame at the end—of futility and dread that register much more powerfully. As for parallels, for all the blithe critic comparisons, Brosnan is obviously playing a British George W. Bush, with a superficial dollop of Ronald Reagan. Pay attention, people!

Also, echoes of Graham Greene/Carol Reed/(Orson Welles’) The Third Man. Technology has taken over the world. Look how ridden this film is with it. And how poisonous the consequences. In connection, the GPS development/sequence is really remarkable. It has the black frisson of some of Polanski’s infernal films (’65, ’68, ’71, ’76, ’99, etc.), even though there’s no seeming devil in the vicinity.

This is some set of performances. Olivia Williams’ character, and the manner in which she renders it, brings Lady Macbeth to mind. (Again, Polanski 1971.) What’s he getting at, in the end? Look at the patiently sadistic shot in which the servant tries to sweep that porch surface clean, while the wind unrelentingly keeps covering it. Futility, puny humans, entropy. Annihilation.