Here we are in Berlin and Belgrade and Lausanne, and there’s Pierce Brosnan running through the streets. We have Russians, secret interrogation chambers, and terrorists. And microfilm! No, wait, that can’t be right—despite the trappings of Cold War espionage, this is a 21st-century movie. So it’s not microfilm, but something downloaded onto a thumb drive, which is much less fun to say than “microfilm.”
The November Man is strong evidence that sometimes a genre needs no excuses. This is not a great movie, nor perhaps even a particularly good one, but as the above litany of component parts suggests, it’s a straight-up spy picture with distinct attractions.
[Originally published in Queen Anne & Magnolia News, Feb. 17, 2010]
Roman Polanski’s The Ghost Writer was thrilling when first seen back in February, and with the end of 2010 in sight it remains my favorite first-time movie encounter of the year. Polanski and his picture have been honored in Europe, though I doubt whether Hollywood has been paying attention. With one minor factual tweak (I just watched it again yesterday), here’s what I said back then about the film. -RTJ
There is a sequence in the Hitchcock classic Foreign Correspondent when Joel McCrea and his comrades, in a car pursuing another car bearing a man who just carried out a very public assassination in the city they’ve left behind, round a curve and see … an empty road and miles of windmills (it’s Holland). This is one of the cinema’s sublimely creepy moments. How did that car disappear in an infinity of nothingness? Where’s the assassin? And why are the vanes of one windmill turning in the opposite direction from the others?
Roman Polanski’s The Ghost Writer sustains something like that creepiness for most of its running time. Not so much because of its mystery-suspense plot, reportedly faithful to the Robert Harris novel (Harris and Polanski share screenplay credit). Nor because, the presence of Pierce Brosnan notwithstanding, it strews action set-pieces like a James Bond movie – it doesn’t, though a drive through drizzly New England woods is more riveting than most movie car chases. No, The Ghost Writer is tense, unsettling and deeply thrilling because of the way a master filmmaker looks at the world.