Thursday, October 7, 2010

The Spirit Of '77: Roman Polanski & The Ghost Writer

I am thankful for the newer more integral directors present today, like Darren Aronofsky, John Hillcoat, P.T. and Wes (yes, I know they are not related). All too often I hear fans and filmmakers alike making excuses for why some older Director’s now make films that suck or at least, are spineless or insulting to even the most minimal level of intelligence. They settle, get spaded or what not. But some of them still got the stones to blow our minds without having to try. Without having to succumb to the idiotic taste of the masses and their crack whore addiction to sensory overload. One of these is Roman Polanski. And he proved this most recently with his beautifully detailed and darkly comical thriller Ghost Writer.

At 77 years old Polanski continues to craft a great visual story with all the perks. A cast recruited by Fiona Weir filled with great and underused all too frequently type casted character actors such as Jim Belushi, Kim Cattrel, Tom Wilkenson, Timothy Hutton, Olivia Williams, and Eli Wallach (who in his mid 90′s still has incredible presence). A fantastic book to script adaptation by Polanski himself and author Robert Harris, based on his novel The Ghost. An unusual, unforgettable and highly effective score by Alexandre Desplat. The list goes on from cinematography to art direction to set decor and editing. The only quality it lacks that most Hollywood films possess in abundance, is mediocrity.

Polanski’s film manages a consistent sense of doom and dread always hovering overhead. You never know when or in what incarnation it will ultimately strike. And it doesn’t help you as much as it helps the film and story that there are these moments of wonderfully subtle humor that allow you to let your guard down before realizing that it isn’t safe to do such a thing, only increasing your sense of danger. A feeling that you share with Ewan Mcgregor’s protagonist (known only as ‘The Ghost’) and yet, together we cannot help but pursue the mystery in a fearful yet, relentless curiosity and need to know.

The film is marvelously crafted. Beautiful in fact. And yes, clever. But not in that “Oooooh, I’m so fucking clever” kind of way every asshole is out there trying to do. I’m not going to use that fucking word “Hitchcockian” because NOTHING is “Hitchcockian” that isn’t made by Hitchcock. But the influence is clearly there in the writing as well as the execution.

The performances are equally outstanding. Pierce Brosnan is perfectly cast as the former British Prime Minister ala Tony Blair, and beyond his “smooth muthafucka in a suit” look, he is at his most un-Brosnan. Kim Cattral reminds us she was and still is much more than Samantha from Sex And The City. And Ewan Mcgregor, as always, is very easy to identify with and follow as The Ghost. Mentally and emotionally we are completely simpatico with him from start to finish. But the sharpest and most enigmatic performance in the film is from Olivia Williams, who plays Brosnan’s cold and intelligent wife, Ruth. You cannot figure her out, she’s emotional yet cool. Sexy yet prim. Mystified yet, certainly sure of something. What hand does she exactly hold? This performance no doubt comes in part from novelist Robert Harris giving the actress a long list of very contradictory character traits to play off of, which she does without missing a beat.

After watching Ghost Writer the first time I was immediately struck with a realization. That it is in essence a 70′s film. Everything that made the 1970′s such a great period of film has been lacking in cinema ever since. For me, the key ingredient of films from the 70′s was character. Character is story. Thoughtful detail and specificity. People like to say, “Well, that was then and this is now. Films can never be that way anymore.” Talk about making fucking excuses, it doesn’t matter ‘when’ we are. It’s ‘what’ we’re churning out. From time to time we see something that has that 70′s thing. Making it current. Particularly in dramas and thrillers. Heat, There Will Be Blood, Michael Clayton. All possess the quality I speak of. And other genres possess an enormous and obvious influence of 70′s films. From All The Real Girls to The Royal Tenanbaums there are shades of Malick to Ashby and yet a very clear individual and new voice. It’s not period, it’s craft. It’s about making movies for grown ups instead of the disconnected tweens who determine the box office with there need for more of the same. I’m not saying we need this instead of the other, I’m saying we need more variety so that actual ‘cinema’ doesn’t get killed off by films with 3-dimensional visuals with 1 dimensional characters that are all too easily forgettable. Maybe truly great films can’t break box-office records anymore, that’s just poor marketing and bad executive decisions though, backed up by lame, lame excuses. In the end, what most box-office hits and the hairdresser’s that produce them will never have, is the very thing that director’s such as Polanski and films like Ghost Writer will. Legacy.

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