To say that the influence of Alfred Hitchcock is making a comeback would be absurd. The man’s work permeates just about every genre of modern film. It is a fact that is undeniable, especially in the world of suspense. So for me to have walked away from the last two films I’ve screened — Martin Scorsese’s Shutter Island and Roman Polanski’s The Ghost Writer – thinking that both were heavily influenced by the work of Hitchcock isn’t a shock. Nor does it make either movie less interesting or take anything away from the two great directors behind them. In fact, it makes them both more interesting.
For Polanski, the release of his latest is obviously marred by his off-camera troubles. And his film often suffers from possibly not having the full attention of its auteur during post production. But on the whole, it is a more than engaging thriller that is as brave and well-constructed as anything you’re going to see this year. This is in part because of the work of author Robert Harris, whose source material is intriguing and detailed. And in part to a bold choice of ending by Polanski. But more than any of that, it is environment.
To create such an intense, layered environment for this thriller — which follows a ghost writer (Ewan McGregor) who is tasked with finishing the memoirs of a controversial former Prime Minister (Pierce Brosnan) after his original writer dies mysteriously — Polanski enlisted the talents of Alexandre Desplat. And as he’s done many times, Desplat delivers a sweeping, beautiful score. It is a score filled with nuance and subtlety, a score that breathes tension into moments and propels that tension forward as we follow the main character’s investigation of what’s really going on around the embattled former Prime Minister. At times, Polanski achieves emotional weight with silence — then just as Hitchcock would, he comes in with just the right amount of music. It is natural, fluid and spine-tingling.
When combined with the stark reality presented in Pawel Edelman’s cinematography, Polanski’s presents a brooding thriller that is filled with intensity waiting to boil over. It is the sort of roaming intrigue that Hitchcock used in films like Vertigo, but cut more closely with the realm of the topical. Polanski has essentially taken a great murder mystery and wrapped it with political intrigue, striking a chord close to our own reality, but never bringing out the big stick of ideology. And most importantly, in the film’s final moments, he pays his audience back for their patience and engagement with an ending that brings them to their knees. Just like the master of suspense might have done.