Friday, September 3, 2010

The Ghost Writer

When a movie is produced from a novel that has been marketed first, my preference is to read the book before seeing the movie. Often that doesn't happen and I see the movie before realizing that it was a novel first. Novels have more details that can't be included within a screenplay and if it isn't written by the novel author, the movie loses much of the ambience that is created in a novel. It is a successful movie on some level if I am intrigued to the point that I will spend the time to read the book after seeing the movie.

The Ghost Writer was a movie that lured me into a plot I had not suspected. I deliberately try not to read reviews of movies before I watch them to see them through an open mind. I read the reviews after I see the movie. I like to make up my own mind and see if I agree with the impressions of the reviewers. The review of this movie in the New York Times was enlightening and provides more than enough analysis of movie making techniques: "Mr. Polanski creates suspense inside the frame through dynamic angles and through the discrete, choreographed movements of the camera and actors. He makes especially effective use of the enormous windows in Lang’s house through which the sky and ocean beckon and threaten." 

People and their stories always interest me more than movie-making techniques. After seeing the movie, I will read the book because I want to know more of this plot to see how Robert Harris, who wrote The Ghost, adapted the novel in the screenplay which he "co-authored" with the movie's producer Roman Polanski. Aside from all the negative connotations of that name, the movie is filled with political intrigue, sinister characters and enough dark moods to rival Citizen Kane.

For a story that begins innocently with a job to quickly polish the memoirs of a former prime minister, the job quickly spirals out of control for the ghost writer who begins some research and gets in over his head. The movie leaves more questions than answers for me. Why does a former prime minister spend time in what looks like a WWII German bunker on a beautiful island? Why does not a ghost writer just polish the pre-existing manuscript, take the money and run? Why is he compelled to assume the role of an investigative reporter to try to unravel the complicated lives of the principals of the auto-biography? Perhaps money and power being the root of all evils are much too simple as answers. This amateur movie watcher finds the ever-present alphabet agencies of governments and all-powerful corporations provide more than enough fodder for conspiracies. I agree with James Patterson whose motto is, "Tell me a good story." The Ghost Writer is a good story, and I have to see if the book ends in the same vein as the movie.


  1. Same thing happens to me: I always try to read the book first, but sometimes you don't know it was adapted from a novel. Only a few times has the movie surpassed the novel, in my opinion. I'll check this one out, thanks to this review.

  2. I have to agree with you that the novel is usually better than the movie.