Roman Polanski’s Latest Victim

02/17/2010 3:00 AM |

The Ghost Writer
Directed by Roman Polanski

Despite his new film’s title, with The Ghost Writer think not of Roman Polanski the 60s arthouse horror innovator, or the Oscar-winning director of late-career prestige dramas, or, especially, the recently extradition-resisting sex criminal. Like it or not, few filmmakers currently operate at Polanski’s level of cinematic construction and craft, and The Ghost Writer proves him to be as much a master at 76 as he was at his creative zenith thirty to forty years ago.

While there’s nothing particularly earth-shattering about its Iraq War conspiracy plot—in which titular phantom scribe Ewan McGregor gradually plumbs the sketchy, closely guarded background of his latest assignment, Pierce Brosnan’s US-friendly, torture-approving, Hague-investigated Tony Blair stand-in—Polanski hits all the right suspense-thriller notes and sustains a brooding atmosphere that makes The Ghost Writer an unsettling mood piece above all else. Think Polanski’s preposterous but fun The Ninth Gate reworked through Chinatown‘s political paranoia and you’ll have some idea of the palpable suspicion, distrust, and isolation—disillusionment, however, barely registers in 2010—evoked here.

Aside from its director’s reliably spooky periphery-conscious compositions, The Ghost Writer‘s most impressive achievement is its strangely empathetic view of a public figure’s cracking facade. By the time the last reel brings an inevitable acrostic-dependent twist, Polanski has snuck a perfect dose of frailty and insecurity into the proceedings, the human element that only he can provide.

Opens February 19