Roman Polanski's latest thriller, The Ghost Writer, is a fascinating mash-up of homages, cinematic in-jokes and self-references, the sort of film that tends to either delight or irritate film buffs -- sometimes inspiring both reactions silmutaneously -- while leaving more casual viewers a bit flummoxed. Surely Polanski couldn't have meant for his green-screen backgrounds to be so patently false! And oh, the performances are stiff and self-conscious! Almost immediately, the arguments begin in one's own head as to whether this movie is deliberately, stylishly melodramatic, or a tad clunky by accident.
As good as The Ghost Writer is -- and it really is quite good -- the film itself doesn't seem to know, either. Part of the problem may lie in the road it took to the screen, what with the director finishing the film while under house arrest in Switzerland, and additional studio meddling which resulted in a painful number of overdubbed line-readings turning effing F-words into "soddings" and "buggers" in order to acquire a PG-13 rating. What's left is the feeling that this could have been one of the director's great films, in the same league as Chinatown or Knife in the Water, but the distractions of Polanski's personal life, and other forces behind the scenes, kept it from reaching masterwork status.