Koch on Film

By Ed Koch

“The Ghost Writer” (+)

This is a good old spy story that we haven’t seen the likes of for many years.  Because it involves mostly English characters, my mind wandered back to Alfred Hitchcock’s 1935 film, “The 39 Steps.”      

“The Ghost Writer” was directed by Roman Polanski — who is now rotting away in his chalet under house arrest in Switzerland.  He awaits a decision from a Swiss court on whether or not he will be extradited back to the United States to be punished for his admitted rape of a child so many years ago before he fled to France.  The film, which includes beautiful and expensive sets on Martha’s Vineyard and in London, does not suffer from arthritis.  It moves at a riveting pace, and the performances of all the principal characters are excellent.        

The Ghostwriter (Ewan McGregor) becomes a detective while hunting down the facts that will permit him to edit a manuscript and, hopefully, turn it into a bestseller.  The book is based on the life of a fictitious former Prime Minister, Adam Lang (Pierce Brosnan) — modeled on the life of Tony Blair.  The script is an attack on Blair, because of his closeness to George W. Bush and America.  Blair is hated by the more radical left in Britain, and he was recently called to testify by a Parliamentary commission investigating Britain’s support of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.  His enemies referred to him, unfairly I believe, as Bush’s lapdog.          

Amelia Bly (Kim Cattrall) is Lang’s assistant.  Regrettably, her role does not include her famed sensuality portrayed in “Sex and the City.”  The brainy and sexy character in the film is Lang’s wife, Ruth (Olivia Williams), and Paul (Tom Wilkinson) is one of his classmates from their university days.        

The dialogue and suspense created by director Polanski are first-rate.  You will enjoy this film. 

Rated PG-13; 2 hours, 8 minutes. Now playing at Regal Union Square Stadium 14 (850 Broadway, between 13 and 14th Streets). For screening times, call 212-253-2225.

“A Prophet” (+)

The film takes place in southern France in an area near Marseilles.  It is brutal, but not as horrific as the “Oz” television series about a prison in America where the population broke down into three groups: blacks, Hispanics and whites involved in white supremacy and a Nazi culture.  All were vile — hating groups other than their own, and they preyed on weaker members of their own gang as well.        

This movie’s depiction of prison life is similar, except that the demographics are Corsican and Muslim.  The Corsicans are referred to as political prisoners:  a reference to insurrection on the island of Corsica.        

The main character is a young Arab, Malik (Tahar Rahim), who is sentenced to six years for a crime we are not privy to but was probably assault.  Malik is quickly pounced upon by the leader of the Corsicans, Cesar Luciani (Niels Arestrup).  Cesar forces him first to be a servant and then an extension of the gang as an assassin.  At Cesar’s direction, Malik murders an Arab prisoner.  It is a very gory killing, and the blood of the victim spurts from his neck like a red river.        

Malik is not an observant or pious Muslim.  When asked by the guard if he eats pork, he responds ambivalently with both a yes and a no.  He is taught the tricks of the criminal trade and introduced to the vice and brutality which takes place.  The prison system, with its corrupt guards, permits one-day excursions outside the facility by prisoners.  Malik is used by Cesar to exact revenge on his enemies and to engage in a lucrative drug trade.        

“A Prophet” is not a fabulous film, but it is well worth seeing.  Although it is long and its story is not surprising, it is always riveting.  The acting by everyone is superb, especially so in the case of Tahar Rahim and Niels Arestrup.

When I arrived at the Angelika, Dr. Ruth was just leaving an earlier showing.  She told me that she felt the picture was excellent and thought I would enjoy it.  She was right.  We also arranged to have lunch.

A side note:  When I was a city councilman and later a congressman, I was deeply involved in prison reform, and I visited almost every New York City prison.  Shortly after being elected to Congress, I visited a prison in Washington, D.C.  As I walked through the facility unannounced, I passed a prisoner mopping the floor who said, “Good morning Congressman Koch.”  I was shocked and asked, “How in the world do you know who I am?”  He replied, “I had the pleasure at The Tombs.” — a Manhattan prison. Life was and remains full of surprises.        

Henry Stern said:  “This is a well-made movie about life in a French prison and wholesale drug dealing.  I admire the competence of the filmmakers and the actors.  The murder was depicted artistically, but the coverage of the rapes and beatings was prosaic, almost squeamish. Some good sides of prison life were shown — a garment factory where inmates worked, and a school where they were taught to read and write French.  It is highly unlikely that a prisoner could transact mob business and murder rival gangsters during a twelve-hour day pass, but this is not a documentary.  This film is not for those with weak stomachs or bladders, but it is a work of art that connoisseurs of prison and drug movies should enjoy and appreciate.”   

Rated R; 159 minutes. In French, Arabic and Corsu, with English subtitles. Now playing at the Angelika Film Center, 18 W. Houston Street. For screening times, call 212-995-2000.