A Ghost, A Pilgrim & A Book

I must admit to some surprise.

Perhaps, in actual fact, it’s more accurate to say disappointment. ‘Surprise’ could be taken in any number of ways, generally in the context of joy or discovery, so let me clarify that the surprise I feel is one more in the line of shock and disappointment. Why am I surprised? The feeling, in all honesty, is general and all encompassing – it just so happens to represent my viewpoint in life right now, but to be specific, it’s because of the film ‘The Ghost Writer’.

It bares mentioning at this point that to some extent it’s my fault for even believing any of the popular reviews (At the Movies with Margaret & David; Rotten Tomatoes) but really, people in such positions – critics with a broad audience – have a responsibility to know and to recommend good films, which in turn requires them to actually know what the hell they’re talking about.

Sadly, this doesn’t appear to be the case.

Of course, it’s a touch presumptuous of me to say that, especially with regards to just this one movie. That being said, I simply can’t believe  there are critics (well respected, popular critics no less) out there  – or indeed, people with functioning brains – that could watch this film and come out with a positive review. It boggles the mind. Margaret & David both gave the film 4 and a half stars and it currently rates about 84% on the Tomatometer. Based on that, you would think that yes, surely this is worth my time and money, that this is a great movie.

The movie, for those of you that are unaware, is called ‘The Ghost Writer’ and is Roman Polanski’s latest film, starring Ewan McGregor and Pierce Brosnan. It’s a political thriller – supposedly – about a ghost writer (Ewan McGregor) being assigned to write the memoirs of former British Prime Minister Adam Lang (Pierce Brosnan), whose previous ghost writer turned up dead and who has just made international news after being accused of war crimes. The story has obvious parallels to Tony Blair and the war in Iraq.

This is easily one of the worst films I’ve seen this year – a list which includes The Wolfman and The Expendables – and given the high expectations engendered by horribly inaccurate reviews, incredibly disappointing for that. I had problems with it at almost every point of the film, on every level, but the fundamental issue is that it is unbelievably boring. For a political thriller involving murder and international intrigue, you really have to do a number in order to render it so unappealingly dull. It’s a tiresome, abnormally slow film, with wooden performances all round from characters as flat as the green screen on which the majority of scenes were shot, lifeless dialogue and an awfully predictable plot that flounders wildly in its own absurdity.

For mine, one of the major issues in the movie, one of the core reasons none of the scenes work, lies in Ewan McGregor’s character ‘The Ghost’ – a tired conceit, to leave him unnamed, and one that fosters unnatural turns of dialogue in order to avoid it – he’s simply not believable. The character quite obviously doesn’t want to be there, he’s not interested in politics, he states that from the outset, and in every scene I’m fighting – as is Ewan McGregor from the look of it – to understand why he’s bothering with any of this crap. He’s obviously doing well for himself and so doesn’t require the money; his character, as set up in the opening of the film, isn’t interested in the job. That changes in the space of three seconds, within the interview, he suddenly passionately advocates his right to be there, saying that a political book “needs heart”, which is ironic because that is exactly what the film lacks.

That one moment of life is the only spark in this otherwise dreary, monotonous waste of time. From that moment on, McGregor is as deathly uninterested as the rest of the cast. Even after being beaten and having a manuscript stolen from him – not more than two minutes after that fateful spark – he fails to evoke even the slightest sense of anger or embarrassment or anything at all. He decides to call his agent. What follows is without a doubt the worst exchange of dialogue I have ever heard in my life.


It was stilted and awful, completely and utterly flat, without anything even remotely resembling concern, or emotion of any kind. This isn’t, I should hasten to add, entirely the fault of the actors – they did what they could with the material provided – but even amateurs should know to avoid those kinds of one-sided mobile exchanges. The movie contains several of them and while I’m not one to say you absolutely should or shouldn’t do something in writing, when you’re as untalented as the bum that wrote this screenplay, it’s best to stick to the basics. So, after an unbearably drawn out 40 minutes in which nothing happens, the ghost writer finally meets his subject and the rest of the predictable gang of mannequins known as the cast.

Cue discovery of the bitter marriage behind the public facade of two political operatives, the obvious affair with the secretary, the incredibly obvious and inevitable sex between the ghost and the wife – which, by the by, has to be the most blatant and unsubtle “seduction” [read: rape] that I’ve ever seen – and the unravelling of the oh-so devious plot. How, you clamor! How does the obviously unmotivated, disinterested writer unravel this spellbinding mystery of international secrets and war crimes? By the power of Google, of course!

No, really. Apparently, if you want to discover top secret CIA operatives, all you need to do is punch a line into Google – which, I assure you, is just as riveting to watch as it sounds – and once you’ve discovered this amazing secret that took you all of 20 seconds research, 20 seconds that an autistic monkey could’ve used better, how then do you prove it? Especially considering that the previous two hours have been filled with nothing but scenes of a fake sea and windy, bleak moors, how do you prove it in the most interesting and thrilling way? Why, by calling the former Foreign Minister responsible for levelling the war crimes claim to begin with. And this Minister – this top political mind, this adept of intrigue with all the money and power afforded the British Government – what evidence does he require?

None, of course.

The exchange goes a little something like this:

Ghost: Professor ——- was a CIA operative! He went to Cambridge with Alan, look, I have pictures!

Minister: How do you know he’s a CIA operative?

Ghost: I looked it up on Google!

Minister: Of course, that makes perfect sense. You know what this means? The PM was a pawn of the CIA all along! Quick, to the bat mobile!

–Okay, so I added that last bit, purely because it would’ve been more fun that way. In any case, if I rant anymore about this atrocious film, I may just cease going to the cinemas altogether, so I’ll stop now, with a final thought: I don’t know who wrote this craptacular travesty, but they shouldn’t ever be allowed to do so again.

A Pilgrim

Thankfully, my recent cinematic experiences were not limited to ‘The Ghost Writer’ and included the visual wonder that is Scott Pilgrim vs the World. Where the previous film had nothing but polished, sterile shots going for it, this movie burst at the seams with colour, with wit, and charm, humour and character, action and music – littered with pop culture references, a movie experience cum video game delight, Scott Pilgrim combined comic book illustrations and innovative visual storytelling techniques that took you by the throat and never let go. I can’t remember having such fun in a cinema for a very long time and I simply can’t wait to go and watch it again.

It’s not perfect, not by any means, but it was vivid and enjoyable, funny and different. It was an immersive experience and I don’t want to pick it apart, even if I could, so I won’t, especially given the length of this post already. I was going to talk about ‘The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao’ but I’ll have to leave that for next time.

That’s all for now, y’all. 🙂

August 24, 2010

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  1. smaur I can't remember, where you in TO during the filming of Scott Pilgrim? Some of it was shot a few blocks away from my house (if you recall the Honest Ed's always prominently in the background). You should definitely read Bryan Lee O'Malley's six volumes of "Scott Pilgrim". (The film is almost line-for-line and gag-for-gag from the graphic novels, except that the graphic novels are significantly longer and just as funny.) A lot of the jokes and gimmicks that don't work in the film fit perfectly in the comics. They're also super-fast reads: just sneak into a bookstore and spend an afternoon reading them, they're a delight.

    August 24, 2010 at 5:46 pm · Reply
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    Omar I can't remember, when was it being shot? Lol, I bought the first volume and I read it...I think the film is better, actually. I love that the first half of the book is almost exactly the same as the film, line for line, shot for shot, but I think the bits the film left out, should have been left out and I didn't like a couple of things they did in the book but yes, it was fun and quirky and easy to read. :p
    August 24, 2010 at 10:22 pm · Reply