Monday, March 29, 2010

Big Ugly Stick, meet The Ghost Writer. Ghost Writer, meet Big Ugly Stick.

In the past few years, I've tried to give more positive than negative movie reviews. I'd rather tell people to try something new and unusual, and only warn them away from something in the worst possible circumstances. While I have given lukewarm or negative reviews to some movies and TV shows, I've only pulled out The Big Ugly Stick twice before, once for Cloverfield and once for District Nine. So, for the third time in three years, The Big Ugly Stick is removed from its carrying case and I take a few well aimed swings with it.

I've read a lot of reviews of the new Roman Polanski movie The Ghost Writer. Most of them have been raves. I hated it with a white hot hate and I can tell you the reasons why.

I never like blaming an actor for a movie sucking. The people who hired the actor and the director are much more to blame that the person giving the bad performance. That person should be quietly fired and replaced.

In The Ghost Writer, the person who should have been fired is Kim Catrall. She is supposed to be the sexy woman working for the former Prime Minister, played by Pierce Brosnan, and her character is supposed to be British. She has the worst British accent I have heard in a generation. It doesn't help that everyone else around her in scenes actually is from the U.K., including Brosnan, Olivia Williams as Brosnan's wife and Ewan McGregor as the title character. It also doesn't help that the Brit Tom Wilkinson plays an American professor who studied in England and he sounds perfectly American, as he has in other film roles. Dialect coaching has gotten so good in the past twenty years, any actor with even a little bit of an ear for mimicry can play a character from anywhere English is spoken. Obviously, the ear for mimicry is what Catrall lacks. She ruins every scene she is in, but the movie isn't complete crap because of her. Still, there are so many attractive British actresses who could have played that role, it's a mystery why she was cast in the first place.

Another minor bit of clumsiness is that sometimes you can see people's lips moving, but different words are coming out of their mouths. There are several instances when the actor says "fuck", but the word "bloody" or "damn" is dubbed over it. I expect this was done to get the movie a PG-13 rating, but re-shooting scenes after the fact is a logistical nightmare due to Polanski's legal troubles.

These are just quibbles. The Ghost Writer is crap because of the writing. It's a modern day thriller dealing with politics and the intelligence agencies, so the important information should be hard to find. Our hero, the ghost writer whose name is never given, isn't a professional sleuth, and honestly, he's just too stupid to live. He gets the job because his predecessor died, allegedly a suicide. Not long after, the former P.M. is brought up on charges of aiding and abetting war crimes. The ghost writer continues to wander around like an idiot in a fog even though anyone with a lick of sense would realize the game being played around him is a matter of life and death. Besides being too stupid to live, he's too stupid to solve the mystery, but the mystery was made far too easy by the inept writing of Polanski and Robert Harris.

An example of the clumsiness. The ghost writer does a clever and dangerous thing and meets a mysterious character, who denies everything the ghost asks him, though clearly some of the stuff must be true. The ghost then goes home and Googles the mysterious character. All the information he needs is on the Internet! And, of course, the information on the Internet must be true since Mr. Mysterious is obviously lying. Mystery solved!

Mr. Harris wrote other novels that have been turned into films. Fatherland was about a "what if" story of the 1960s in Germany if Hitler had won. Enigma was a fictionalization of the work done at Bletchley Park during World War II cracking the German codes. He might want to stick to period pieces because the modern world is too difficult for him to understand. Any good intelligence thriller is about a looking glass world where no information is easy to find unless it's complete crap, and the hard to find stuff might still be a red herring. This is more like an old gumshoe novel where the hero wanders around in a dangerous world asking dumb questions, gets beat up a few times, laid at least once and pieces together the real story by putting his faith in what dead people told him.

If I can say a kind word, the film looks great. Polanski still knows how to frame a shot and get good work out of his actors, other than Kim Catrall. The problem with a bad movie is almost always the bad script, a story that doesn't work on multiple levels. That fault lies not with Polanski the director, but Polanski the co-writer and Harris, the adapter of his own novel. A book this bad should never have been turned into a movie in the first place.

I hope I can keep Big Ugly Stick reviews down to about one a year, but like with District Nine, you never know when you will be sucked into the movie theater by multiple glowing reviews that are completely off base.

I am not reviewing Polanski's legal situation, just the movie I saw yesterday. In a just world, all copies of The Ghost Writer would be melted down into guitar picks immediately. I've seen other bad movies and not warned my readers away from them. I'm making an exception here because of the remarkable level of awfulness and the stunning level of lionization. The Ghost Writer is now in contention for the worst movie Ewan McGregor has ever been in, and that category includes The Phantom Menace and The Island.

Be afraid. Be very afraid.

You have been warned.


CDP said...

One minor point of disagreement: I haven't seen The Ghost Writer, so I can't comment on it, but "Attack of the Clones" was even worse than
"The Phantom Menace". At least we were spared Hayden Christensen in the latter.

Matty Boy said...

It's a matter of the level of distaste one has for Hayden Christensen vs. Jar Jar Binks. Reasonable people can disagree. Also, I wanted to keep that sentence short. McGregor has made more than his share of bombs and bad blockbusters. I could make a list of ten movies that would be in the running for worst Ewan McGregor film ever, depending on one's point of view.

Padre Mickey said...

I pretty much only watch Bollywood anymore, and I'm much happier.

Utah Savage said...

This review pleases me for so many reasons. I read the book and thought it was shit. I hate Polanski for reasons having nothing to do with his brilliance as a director. And to have cast Kim Catrall as a Brit was so idiotic when there are so many brilliant and beautiful Brits to play the part. I might watch it in the far distant future on a Sat night when nothings on TV, but this is playing on one of the cheap commercial cable channels late at night.

Matty Boy said...

I read Fatherland and saw the HBO film. I also saw Enigma, but I didn't read it. I didn't hate Harris' earlier work, but if the book is this bad, that's a very bad sign.

The casting of Catrall is mystifying. She plays something of a stock character now, the attractive loyal aide who is bonking the boss. I don't know if her age was mentioned in the book, but it seemed odd to have that role played by a woman in her fifties, when the wife is about ten years younger. That timeline stuff is also a little odd because Olivia Williams' character was supposed to have met Brosnan's character in college back in the early 1970s, when Olivia Williams would have been less than ten years old.

There are some other things I hate about the story that would have gone into the "spoiler alert" level of detail, but everything I brought up in my review in terms of plot points is at about the level of detail I saw in other reviews from newspapers.

dguzman said...

Man, who told Ewan McGregor he could act? He's kinda terrible in everything I've seen him in.