Let’s get this out of the way upfront: Roman Polanski is a frakked-up man. He’s lived through a lot of horrors, but well, he raped a child, and that’s something that’s not forgivable. That said, the man does have a way with a camera (and a script). The bastard.
Anyway, “The Ghost Writer” is the story of a disgraced politician, Great Britain’s Former Prime Minister Adam Lang (Pierce Brosnan in fine form as a Tony Blair homage), whose first draft of his memoir has been rejected by his editors. His publishing house has called in a new ghost writer (Ewan McGregor) after the previous ghost writer’s bizarre suicide.
Unfortunately for our characters, Lang finds out he’s being brought up on war crimes charges shortly after the writer’s arrival, which is a bit rough for the politician and the writer, who had just started what is surely to be a massive rewrite.
But once the politician has fled his compound to seek out some American allies, the writer (for the record, the character is never named) starts digging into his predecessor’s death and uncovers some shocking (SHOCKING) and damning secrets from his subject’s past.
What really works here is the mood of the film; Polanski got his start in his movies by crafting unbearable suspense thrillers like “Repulsion” and especially “Knife in the Water,” and he stills knows all the tricks to ratcheting up the tension and suspense (and how to wring ‘genuine’ fear from his actors). While I found the conspiracy plot a bit on the silly (not to mention obvious) side, the way the characters react to the twists and turns in the story always works.
What doesn’t work as well is the casting. McGregor and Brosnan shine in their roles, and Tom Wilkinson is unforgettable in his one-scene role as an acquaintance of Lang’s (seriously folks, the movie went up a whole letter grade in my mind because of that one scene), but the ladies in the film don’t fare as well.
Kim Cattralll, as Lang’s employee Amelia Bly, gives her all to perfecting a British accent, which doesn’t really pay off, but her efforts would have been better spent in keeping her own accent and acting more natural on screen (and really, there was no reason that she had to British in the first place). Olivia Williams, as Ruth Lang, Adam’s wife, is pretty good but a bit wasted in an underwritten and clichd role.
But really, I don’t want to be too negative here. “The Ghost Writer” is a solid film, a triumph of mood and style, even with a conspiracy that makes sense but doesn’t resonate; Polanski was always better at cerebral films than emotional ones anyway. And honestly, the Wilkinson scene alone makes the whole trip worthwhile.
For another take on “The Ghost Writer,” check out Jim’s review.
“The Ghost Writer” (2010)
Written by Roman Polanski and Robert Harris
Directed by Roman Polanski
Starring: Ewan McGregor (The Ghost Writer)
Pierce Brosnan (Adam Lang)
Olivia Williams (Ruth Lang)
Kim Cattrall (Amelia Bly)
Tom Wilkinson (Paul Emmett)