CAPSULE: A minor author is hired to ghostwrite an autobiography for a former British Prime Minister. But he finds he is uncovering information some people may not want dug up. Roman Polanski directs a dark political thriller from a script by Robert Harris based on his own novel. After a slow and deliberate start Polanski pulls up the pace and pulls us into the action. Rating: +2 (-4 to +4) or 7/10
Ewan McGregor plays a character identified only as "The Ghost". That makes him sound dramatic, but he is anything but. This anonymous man is a failing writer who has some minimal talent. He is hired for what will probably be the biggest job of his life, if he keeps it a secret. Former British Prime Minister Adam Lang (played by Pierce Brosnan) is writing his memoirs against a publishing deadline. Actually, he had a ghostwriter doing the real writing. But in the opening sequence a previous ghostwriter mysteriously disappears from a ferry, a probable suicide. Now Lang needs a new ghostwriter and The Ghost is chosen for the well-paid confidential job, if he can bring the book together in four weeks. The problem is that the dead man put no more structure on the book than Adam Lang did--very little--and the new ghost might have to write nearly from scratch.
Complicating matters Lang lives in virtual exile on an American island much like Martha's Vineyard. The Ghost goes there to work with Lang. But he is so hamstrung by the rules of the former P.M.'s house that he is making little progress. He controlled by Lang's wife Ruth (Olivia Williams) and his secretary and possible mistress Amelia Bly (Kim Cattrall). And there is a further complication. Almost immediately after The Ghost's arrival the world court accuses Lang of war crimes in rendering terrorism suspects to the CIA. Every step forward he moves on the book he takes two steps back. More and more The Ghost finds reasons to suspect that he is not getting the whole story on Lang and on the death of his predecessor, and that may be just the beginning.
There are some very complex relationships in Lang's house. Some are explained to The Ghost and some slowly become inferred. Even the setting seems oppressive. The island seems perpetually cloaked in oppressive gray mist or rain giving the entire surroundings a clammy feel. Polanski obviously could not film in Martha's Vineyard, so he used an island off Germany as a stand-in. Somehow the island just does not have the feel of being in the United States Eastern seaboard.
The film is well cast with actors like Olivia Williams of AN EDUCATION and THE POSTMAN. Williams can be counted on for an intelligent performance. Of course Tom Wilkinson is good in a smallish, but strong role. And it is a pleasure to see Eli Wallach still acting at age 94.
Very clearly this film takes aim at the special relationship between British and US Intelligence. Lang strongly resembles Tony Blair, not just physically but also politically. We see analogs of Condeleeza Rice and of Haliburton. But there are certainly secrets in Lang's life that powerful people might not want released. For Roman Polanski this may have been a special project. Lang is a famous person who for legal reasons cannot return to his home much like Polanski. And by placing the CIA in a negative light Polanski can thumb his nose at the United States Government, which in the real world is trying to extradite Polanski to the United States.
With all the problems in Polanski's life (perhaps not undeserved) he can still turn out a gripping film. Reportedly he did some editing at home while under house arrest. I rate his THE GHOST WRITER a +2 on the -4 to +4 scale or 7/10.
Film Credits: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt1139328/
What others are saying: http://www.rottentomatoes.com/m/10012063-ghost_writer/
Mark R. Leeper firstname.lastname@example.org Copyright 2010 Mark R. Leeper