15 April 2010

The Ghost Writer *

Look, I'm not a film critic. I'm not even a film scholar. I'm just a barely literate film fan, so I'm not obliged to look at a film from any specific or objective perspective (nobody is; but there is a misconception that critics and scholars are supposed to when "reviewing" something). The point is, I'm going to straight-up compare The Ghost Writer to Shutter Island, and there's nothing you can do about it.

I don't mean to make a thing of it. The two aren't in any kind of direct competition here. I only bring it up because both films seem to stand on the shoulders of a certain Mr. Hitchcock. Both have staged, rushed characterizations. Both rely on exposition and play fast and loose with motivation, focusing instead on action and image. Both are puzzle films, mysteries, psychological thrillers. Both are brilliantly shot and beautifully moody. Both had that air of filmmaking giants dabbling in pulp and homage. But only one was fun, engaging, made me laugh a couple of times, and still had surprises and twists worth waiting for. Only one felt like it had new things to say on old subjects (that may be harsh, but that's how it felt on a single viewing each). Only one of the two films worked as a movie, for this guy. And I'm sorry, Marty, but I'm giving the tiara to Roman here.

The characters are silly, through and through, but in that "right" way to be silly for the movie it is. Since I'm comparing, I can't call The Ghost Writer a labor of love without acknowledging Scorsese's as the same. Both these guys love the pulpy thriller genre, clearly. And thank you, guys, because so do I. But scenes in Polanski's -- well, you can't watch this film without the shadow of his years in exile and impending arrest hanging over it, and in the dim light of that shadow (er, that metaphor collapsed; sorry) you can really see the personal touches, the paranoia and desperation and frustration that has fed a man living the way PM Adam Lang has. It makes the story feel like it needs to be told, it makes the story (like most or all Polanski's stories) feel like a window into something. Maybe that's there in Scorsese's, but I didn't see it. For me Shutter Island was opaque and clunky. The Ghost Writer, by comparison, is breezy and graceful.

One more thing. There is something about this movie that I found unbearable, and that's the blatant foul-language scrubbing. It's the worst ADR'd "fuck" removals I've seen on the big screen. You could watch the lips say "fuck" all the time, but the voices say "shit" and "sod" and "asshole" and "balls." And they cut in so clumsily, often missing the "F"s -- three times I swear a character cursed by saying "fffit." It was awful, awful, awful, and I felt like I was watching the edited-for-television version. (For the record, I counted two "fucks" left in there, one a great big one and one a toss-off, maybe-not-worth-overdubbing one.) Was getting a PG-13 rating over language worth it for this film? Is a semi-political semi-psychological thriller about a writer and a Tony Blair stand-in the kind of thing fifteen year-olds are desperate to see? It almost ruined the film for me.

Anyway, other than that, I approve.

Seen at the Fox Tower.

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