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The Ghost Writer
Genre Mystery
Year: 2010
 
Review:

Alfred Hitchcock was the Master of Suspense, yet he also created one of the world's most famous horrors, Psycho. Horror and thriller go hand-in-hand, building the audience up to the climax and then frightening them out of their wits. Another man credited with crafting a famous horror film is Roman Polanski, who delivered Rosemary's Baby. These two directors know how to build tension, wrap the beholder in mystery and keep the rope taut right until the dramatic, surprising and brilliant conclusion. Now Hitchcock wasn't known for his people skills, infamously referring to his actors as 'cattle'. The same behind-the-scenes personal turmoil has existed for Roman Polanski, although one particular incident at Jack Nicholson's home still haunts him today.

Just like Hitchcock's primary hero device, Polanski has been on-the-run from the authorities for decades, leaving a trail of brilliant films like The Pianist in his wake. Hitchcock's motives were derived out of childhood fear and a dislike for police figures, while Polanski's journey has been out of necessity - avoiding America at all costs. So it's fitting that Polanski should take a Hitchcockian perspective on his own film, The Ghost Writer. After all, the film reflects very real aspects that he continues to battle within the character of Adam Lang and The Ghost.

Prime Minister Lang (Brosnan) is busy "writing" his politically-correct memoirs with the help of a hired writer, known as a ghost writer. However, a dark secret from his term of governance emerges in the media and with it the washed up body of his first ghost writer. When The Ghost (McGregor), the replacement ghost writer commences work... a series of startling clues begin to unfurl and with them a political conspiracy even more cutthroat than the original ghost writer's death begins to emerge.

The Ghost Writer is a tribute to the greats, most notably Hitchcock, as it sets about creating a beautiful, dreary and layered mystery. Ewan McGregor replaces Jimmy Stewart in a slow, twisting, turning movie in the vein of Vertigo, taking an unassuming gentleman and giving him the reins on a ghostly horse that has to pass through the darkest night. This film has it all, underlying conspiracy, not-so-secret affairs, dark political machinations and a haunting path to the light of day. McGregor doesn't have the same calibre as leading men like Jimmy Stewart or Cary Grant, yet embodies the same fibre of a hero's innocence on his quest for the truth.

McGregor is ably supported by Pierce Brosnan, Olivia Williams, Kim Cattrall and Tom Wilkinson, who provide the perfect climate for the mystery to unravel. Red herrings are two-for-one as each character's motives become more visible and The Ghost is drawn further and further down his predecessor's spiral. Polanski sets the mystery on an island just off the US coast line - a political asylum, solace and retreat for Lang and his first lady and PR team. The Ghost is slowly drawn into an intimate circle with his colleagues as the media become more involved and the memoirs become more and more important in diverting the full-blown political attack on Lang.

This isn't a high speed chase thriller, it's a much slower, more involved affair... reminding us why Hitchcock was so remarkable. Using drama, human interest, intellect and intrigue to engage - rather than stunts, special effects and big name stars. The cast aren't unknown, but all carry their own sense of mystery - with very little going on in the tabloids. For Polanski, this Robert Harris adaptation is quite a personal film... as he parallels his "buried" secret with the ex-prime minister's dilemma, one blemish that tarnishes his whole term.

The Ghost Writer is an excellent choice for those familiar with any of Hitchcock's films. Polanski doesn't use gimmicks to get the message across, opting for tangible suspense rather than torture, excessive blood and meaningless violence. This is a thinking man's mystery, one which will no doubt warrant a second viewing in time and one, which will haunt you for weeks to come. Solid performances, great writing, sensitive direction and an excellent mystery make The Ghost Writer a remarkable tribute to the late great of slow-cooking, man-on-the-run suspense.

The bottom line: Taut.

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