In Ghost Writer, Cumming stars as John Vandermark, a failed composer who has taken in a struggling writer, Sebastian St. Germain (Boreanaz), who overstays his welcome. John is in love with Sebastian and hopes that his stewardship to the young writer will result in some payback in the romance department. But Sebastian is more interested in clubbing and furthering his career. When John discovers that Sebastian has simply been using him as a source for a novel, he turns the tables on his young tenant in an effort to make him work off his rent debt. After a vicious fight, Sebastian wakes up dressed in women’s lingerie, duct taped to a chair. From there Ghost Writer veers away from whatever quirky charm it may have had into a dark, sadistic, bloody farce. When Sebastian dies accidentally in the process, John tries to make it up to him by helping him get his book published posthumously. Amazingly, the book is published, and John cannot help but take credit for the work of genius.
Written by Tom Gallagher (based on his play), Ghost Writer should benefit from actors of the caliber of Cumming and Boreanaz to keep the movie at least somewhat interesting. Unfortunately, Cumming delivers an over-the-top performance that belongs in a theater full of patrons. Instead, he should be acting for the camera, i.e. more intimate and restrained. He comes off like an amateur acting in his first ever movie. Meanwhile, Boreanaz uses the same laid back charm he utilizes in Bones, and appears much more natural and (for lack of better word) “film-like.” Since the two of them share 80 percent of the screen time together, the film is doomed. But it’s not just Cumming’s style that hurts the film. His choices as a director restrict the source material from stepping off of the theater stage and into the cinematic realm. Although the camera moves throughout and the editing is fine, the staging and the pacing of the actors performances feels stagnant. At times I felt like I was watching a student film instead of the second effort from someone whose first film I admired so much.
Cumming’s first film was The Anniversary Party, which he co-wrote and co-directed with Jennifer Jason Leigh. The Anniversary Party was a loose, emotionally involving ensemble piece that never felt forced and was very humanistic. The viewer felt like a spectator during that film. In Ghost Writer, the viewer feels like a hostage. Despite appearances by Henry Thomas, Anne Heche (channeling her character from Men in Trees), Carrie Fisher (who appears in one scene and looks like she’s sleepwalking through her role), and the great Jane Lynch (who manages to make at least one scene in the movie lively), Ghost Writer commits the worst crime any movie can make: It’s boring.
Ghost Writer is available to purchase at Amazon.