In our new column See This Not That, we break down two different — but kinda sorta related — films for you every Tuesday.
This week, “The Ghost Writer” goes up against “Ghost Rider: Spirit of Vengeance.” The first will leave you breathless from a paranoid plot, the latter will leave you senseless from a pointless one.
From French-Polish director Roman Polanski (“Rosemary’s Baby,” “The Pianist”) comes 2010’s elegantly unsettling political thriller “The Ghost Writer.” The film follows an unknown and unnamed ghostwriter (Ewan McGregor) recruited to pen the memoirs of former British prime minister Adam Lang (Pierce Brosnan). While working closely with the prime minister, the ghostwriter discovers his predecessor died after discovering a link between Prime Minister Lang and the CIA.
An adaptation of Robert Harris’ novel "The Ghost," "Ghost Rider" boasts a smart screenplay and plot, with an ominous aura that looms over the film. The gray, gloomy world crafted by Polanski is visually poetic. The monochromatic color palate of a Martha’s Vineyard-type winter is chilling: The ocean is an inky black, the sky a steely gray. Brosnan plays a grossly charming politician while McGreg0r plays a wearily paranoid writer -- an eerie yet irresistible combination.
As if 2007’s “Ghost Rider” weren't enough, Nicolas Cage returned in 2012 as Johnny Blaze in “Ghost Rider: Spirit of Vengeance.” Based on Marvel Comics’ highly flammable hero, the “Ghost Rider” franchise features Cage as a hell-blazing bounty hunter who sells his soul to the devil (and, judging by his performance in the film, the devil took his talent, too). In this second installment, the cursed hero is offered freedom from his fiery fate by a rebel monk (Idris Elba), but only if he helps protect a young boy.
It's clear that former Academy Award winner Cage has hit bottom here: Much like his character Johnny Blaze, his career is going up in flames. The idea behind the enterprise and the script both fall short. Perhaps the most insightful moment of the entire film is when Danny asks Johnny what happens when he urinates while on fire. Which ensues is a scene aimed at the lowest common denominator of moviegoing.