Thursday, August 19, 2010

The Ghost Writer (Roman Polanski, 2010)

A lot of people compare The Ghost Writer to Chinatown in its grasp of paranoia and political corruption, but the most obvious reference point to me seems to be Hitchcock’s The 39 Steps and its subsequent pseudo-remakes. An unsuspecting nobody with a smidgeon of wit takes on a job that gets him in over his head as he stumbles into an enormous political controversy, putting him in immense danger. He is tailed by faceless henchmen, gets to the bottom of a murder mystery, and even has a tense, awkwardly funny meeting with a wickedly condescending and highly suspect intellectual in a manor on a remote estate. As far as story mechanics go, The Ghost Writer is a classical thriller in the best sense of the phrase. And yet it is strictly anti-Hitchcockian in its muted, unobtrusive visuals and methodical pacing. It’s drearily non-picturesque to the point of minimalism, and its absence of a hedged stylization is what sets it radically apart from its oft-noted predecessors. Politically current while still entirely old-fashioned, The Ghost Writer manages goofy fun in the name of genre, seriousness in the name of tone and content, and maturity in its rejection of the overwrought defeatism that has made Chinatown the ever-enduring hallmark of Polanski’s filmography.