The Ghost Writer – DVD Review

The Ghost Writer is a thriller that doesn’t rely on violence or constant car chases to keep the audience on the edge of its seat, and instead chooses to go about bringing the suspense almost by surprise, slowly allowing it to creep up on the viewer scene by scene, just as it does the main character as played by Ewan McGregor.

McGregor plays a character we, the audience, know nothing about outside of a few scarce details; yet instantly connect with on a level that’s needed in order for the journey we’re about to embark on with him to have the desired effect. To us, he’s known only as Ghost, or The Ghost, which is short for the ghost writer, which is what he does for a living. His name is never mentioned, and it adds a mysterious element to the film that somehow feels right. At the start of the he’s hired on as a replacement to write the biography of ex-British Prime Minister, Adam Lang (Pierce Brosnan), as the previous ghost writer had been found dead only a short time prior, his body washed ashore, with high levels of alcohol in his blood indicating either suicide or accidental drowning.

The Ghost is uneasy about the project right from the start, feeling that something is off with the whole thing. His agent reminds him just how much he’s being paid to basically rewrite an already finished manuscript, and The Ghost reluctantly agrees. He travels from London to the state of Massachusetts, where the former Prime Minister is currently residing on business.

Upon arrival, The Ghost learns that there’s much more to the story of Adam Lang, indeed, as almost instantly every news outlet is plastered in stories about how Lang is a war criminal, and gave the go ahead for torture to be used on prisoners during the war. Unsure what to make of it all, and after starting to question the mysterious death of his predecessor on the biography, The Ghost reluctantly begins his own investigation into Lang and his colleagues, if only just to find out just what he’s gotten himself into, and, if he’s lucky, to find a way out.

There’s so much that can be said about The Ghost Writer, and yet, it’s in those words that the true essence of the growing intrigue that’s so craftily built throughout the film would be spoiled. The acting in the film is superb, with McGregor, as per usual, at the top of his game. He’s without a doubt one of the best actors in the business today, and at the same time, one of the most underrated. His work as The Ghost is perfect, and he carries the film with ease. Brosnan is also great in his role as Adam Lang, and for the minimal screen time he does have in the film, he brings the perfect persona to the screen that makes his character so impactful in such small doses. Olivia Williams is fantastic as Brosnan’s wife, Ruth Lang, and here’s hoping that she’s seen in bigger roles in the future. Filling out the brilliant cast are such names as Timothy Hutton, Eli Wallach, James Belushi, Tom Wilkinson and Kim Cattrall.

Director Roman Polanski shows here just why he’s as highly regarded in the industry as he is. His visions and hands on approach to film-making truly shine through, and he’s got a way of making the audience feel exactly what he wants them to feel, sometimes without them even realizing they’re feeling it. The way he builds tension in the film is flawless, and the logical approach to how things come about that he and Robert Harris – who wrote both the screenplay for the film, and the novel of which it’s based – is awe-inspiring.

A great thriller can be determined through many ways, but none are as telling as leaving the viewer with the instant urge to see the film again once the screen fades to black. The Ghost Writer does just that, as Polanski has crafted a masterpiece of a thriller that should not be missed.

The film looks absolutely fantastic. For a DVD version of the film, I was actually quite taken with the clean, smooth visuals that the film offered. With the film constantly changing from light to dark, with heavy emphasis on the weather, the colours and shades remain vibrant and crisp; a great job done here by the studio, and only helps make the film that much stronger. The audio sounds terrific, and is presented in 5.1 Dolby Digital. Everything comes through clearly, and really, there are no complaints to be had in either of these departments. Great transfer all around.

Ghost Writer: Fact or Fiction – This featurette comes in at just under 11 minutes. Author Robert Harris talks about how he came up with the idea for the book, and how he came aboard as the screenwriter as well. He speaks about working with Roman Polanski, and how different ideas for the film, and the film’s ending were all thrown around throughout production to give what they thought was the best story. He was especially happy with how Polanski views the original novel as the first draft of the screenplay, and wanted to keep as much of it as they could, instead of completely omitting a great deal like most adaptations tend to do these days.

The Cast of Ghost Writer – This one comes in at just under 12 minutes, and is pretty much self-explanatory. The cast of the film talk about their experiences working with Polanski, as well as the film itself. These are the type of extras that work well for these types of films, as there isn’t much that can be shown as far as special effects, so it’s great to hear from all the actors and get their take on the works.

An Interview with Roman Polanski – This interview is just under 9 minutes, and is all Polanski talking about the film, why he chose to work on it, and about different aspects of The Ghost Writer. It’s fast, yet interesting to see his perspective on how he envisions a film, and how it comes to life on the screen; whether it be about casting, or choosing locations. One incredibly interesting aspect is that the house, one of the main locations in the film, was actually built on a set. Polanski explains that the type of isolated house they wanted, right next to the beach, would be impossible to find, and regardless, the huge windows that are scattered throughout the house, would stop them from shooting in a live location, as the weather would always be changing. Thus, they built it all, and added the dramatically grim weather and lighting themselves via green screen. When I go back and watch the film again, maybe the effect will be more noticeable, but I thought the weather, and the views from the house were breathtaking in the film, and was actually shocked to find out none of it was real, which really says a lot for how well they put this all together in the end.

The Ghost Writer is a perfectly-plotted, expertly-paced thriller that will stay with you long after film ends. It’s perfectly cast, brilliantly directed, and I really can’t say enough about the film. At the same time, I can’t say much about the film, because part of the experience is learning with The Ghost, and trying to unravel the mystery alongside him. This film gets my highest recommendation and definitely shouldn’t be missed.

Summit Entertainment The Ghost Writer. Directed by: Roman Polanski. Starring: Ewan McGregor, Pierce Brosnan, Olivia Williams, Kim Cattrall. Running time: 128 minutes. Rating: PG-13. Released on DVD: August 3, 2010.

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