(2010) dir. Roman Polanski
viewed: 03/16/10 at the UA Stonestown Twin, SF, CA
Roman Polanski is unique. Unique is an overused word, so much so that its specific meaning has broadened. Unique means something singular, and by being singular, there can be no degrees of uniqueness. You are either singular or you are not. If you vary by degrees then uniqueness is not something that you achieve. Yet, I personally argue, that with the ever-changing language that uniqueness or the quality of being unique is a term whose meaning has changed. In other words, you can be unique(r) than something else. You can be something less like other things and more one and only yourself.
And even in this argument, Roman Polanski is unique.
A director who burst upon the scene with such amazing films as Knife in the Water (1962) and Repulsion (1965), he then went on to greater commercial success with Rosemary’s Baby (1968) and Chinatown (1974). He had his beautiful wife, Sharon Tate, pregnant with their child, heinously murdered by members of the Manson cult. He also, some time later, was arrested for statutory rape and fled the United States for Europe to escape trial and likely imprisonment. He continued, intermittantly, to make films, ranging from bad (The Ninth Gate (1999)) to Oscar-worthy (The Pianist (2002)), and near the release of this film at the Berlin Film Festival, was arrested in Switzerland, awaiting potential extradition to the United States for his child abuse crimes.
Is that a unique life or what?
Nonetheless, his latest film, The Ghost Writer, arrived in the United States just recently and depicts a political thriller/mystery of sorts, focussing on a character played by Pierce Brosnan, an image of Tony Blair to an extent, the former Prime Minister of Britain, now accused of war crimes for supporting torture as used on potential terrorists. It also stars the incredibly likeable Ewan McGregor as the titular ghost writer, hired to scribe the memoirs of Brosnan’s ex-PM, following in the footsteps of his predescessor who died mysteriously.
For me, knowing Polanski’s situation at the time of the release of this film (he was imprisoned or under house-arrest in Switzerland during post-production), it’s hard not to look upon Brosnan’s character, an amiable, once powerful, charismatic statesman who is more or less imprisoned in his own home by the media and the world who want to expose and ruin him, as a potential self-reference. The question of Brosnan’s character’s collusion in the crimes is under question throughout the film, only at the end is the secret revealed.
For a lot of critics, this film was a striking thriller, taut, well-made, well-acted, riveting, showing the director, now pushing 80, at his prime, or at least re-claiming his prime. And frankly, the film is pretty solid, and actually perhaps, more solid that I supposed. I’ve long held this question about directors in their later years making films, being perhaps more out-of-touch with reality, not able to create a believable world (for whatever reason). And this film, holds most of that potential complaint at bay.
But really, The Ghost Writer is not one of Polanski’s great films. And to be truthful, I would have to say that I would be willing to state that those are all behind him (no matter what comes of his imprisonment or potential extradition). But it’s not at all a bad film. Ewan McGregor is a very likeable lead and the story has enough of a mystery to keep one involved. But while the film tries to be timely, citing complicities of would-be Tony Blairs, Bill Clintons, George W. Bushes, and even Condoleeza Rices, it lacks the weight and depth of what those real crimes have been by taking the story and extending it fictionally further. Or at least, that is my thought.
The Ghost Writer is, for me, hard to simply see as another “thriller” of political or other tones, but the film of a complex and bizarre, unique filmmaker, whose life story has yet to be settled for history, whose work continues to challenge themes and ideas of his heydey, but yet doesn’t begin to grasp the complexity of the reality that belies these stories, either his own or his subject matter.