Greetings again from the darkness. It’s not very often we get new releases from Martin Scorcese (Shutter Island) and Roman Polanski within a week of each other. And both are thrillers. And both stories are immersed in water. And both have lead characters who might not be what they seem. Heck both films have PLENTY of characters who might not be what they seem!
Say what you will about Mr. Polanski as a human being, but he is a craftsmen when it comes to film. Rosemary’s Baby, The Tenant and Chinatown are all classics. Here he works with the source material from Robert Harris’ novel. The story is centered around the process of an ex-British Prime Minister writing his memoirs through the use of a ghost writer. Oh yeah, this ex-Prime Minister is accused of being overly friendly with the U.S. and may have even committed war crimes? Sound familiar? Yes, Adam Lang, played convincingly by Pierce Brosnan, has numerous similarities to Tony Blair.
Ewan McGregor plays the nameless ghost, actually a replacement for the original ghost, who died under suspicious circumstances. Polanski channels Hitchcock by making every character either a suspect or, at a minimum, suspicious. The use of water, rain, stark surroundings, cozy double-edged dialogue, and even a note passed in a key moment all evoke the master of suspense and thrills.
Olivia Williams is Brosnan’s tormented wife who remains oddly loyal and involved despite full acknowledgment of his mistress-assistant (another horrible performance from Kim Cattrall). Timothy Hutton is solid in his role as Brosnan’s attorney, and James Belushi does much with the small role of publisher. Ninety-something year old Eli Wallach is very cool and spirited in his short scene, and Tom Wilkinson adds another powerful turn to his sterling resume.
All of these people could be the “who” in who-dunnit; however, we aren’t even sure what the crime is. Or how many crimes have been committed. The only thing that keeps this one from being an instant classic is the lack of a truly complex web of intrigue. Don’t get me wrong, it will keep you glued for the entire time, but I would have enjoyed a few more clues and dead-ends and real investigative work, rather than the stumbling curiosity of a ghost writer. Still, the story is strong enough and the acting is fine enough to make this one worth seeing. Need to also mention the score … a fabulous score is a necessity in a thriller, and this one is top notch.