Polanski and Oscar: Is it personal?

Will the Acad be receptive to the helmer's latest effort?

Indies find the edge | Capturing the zeitgeist of 2010 | Restorative uplift during trying times | Polanski and Oscar: Is it personal?

Oscar has forgiven Roman Polanski before. But after his high-profile transnational court fight this year, will the Academy be as receptive to Polanski’s latest effort?

Few films have been completed when the filmmaker was under house arrest. But when Polanski was putting the final touches on his mordant and dark-hued film, “The Ghost Writer,” loosely based on former British Prime Minister Tony Blair’s efforts to restore his tainted image while battling war crimes charges, Polanski was detained to a chalet in Gstaad, Switzerland — another bizarre turn in Polanski’s epic legal battle to fight efforts to extradite him to Los Angeles court for conviction on charges of raping then 13-year-old Samantha Gailey.

With time to spare and minimal distractions, “The Ghost Writer” post-production process and soundtrack was reportedly worked over to an unusual degree during Polanski’s Gstaad confinement, and the results led to the director’s best-reviewed film since his Oscar-winning “The Pianist.”

Following its well-received Berlin fest world premiere, Summit Entertainment opted to release the film stateside in February, a long stretch from the Oscar season wherein such a heady drama might find a natural home. Chicago Tribune critic Michael Phillips echoed much of the critical reception when he commented on how Polanski turns a conventional conspiracy thriller into a triumph of tone, ensemble playing and atmospheric menace.

Despite star power including Pierce Brosnan in a remarkable performance as the politician Adam Lang and Ewan McGregor as the titular character who finds himself trapped in the prime minister’s curiously sepulchral world — not to mention the kind of weightiness involving the consequences of political corruption on the world stage that the Academy ostensibly admires — “The Ghost Writer” earned a mere $15 million domestic and $44 million in theatrical. If Polanski’s legal troubles weren’t enough of a potential impediment to win over Academy support, the film’s tepid business potentially weakens its position as a contender.

“I don’t see it winning any Oscars, frankly, based on its commercial performance,” says Phillips. “Besides, its depiction of a certain continental depravity tends not to translate well on Academy Award night. I would hope I’m wrong, since the film is really superb in its creation of a sinister comic tone that you can find in almost all of Polanski’s work, and which comes off particularly effective here.”

Of course, last year’s best pic winner, “The Hurt Locker,” was no B.O. hit either, leaving open the possibility that, in a less-than-stellar year for potential contenders, movies with more respect than dollars might be able to break through.

Representatives from Summit would not comment on how the company is handling “The Ghost Writer” Oscar campaign in relation to Polanski’s controversies, but confirmed that a campaign is underway, tied into the film’s August DVD release.

“We believe Roman Polanski is one of the world’s great filmmakers,” the company said in a statement, “and this highly acclaimed film is one of his best. We are proud of the accomplishments of the filmmakers and actors involved. It deserves to be considered.”

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