The Ghost Writer

© 2010 Ray Wong


Based on Robert Harris's novel, The Ghost Writer is a political thriller serving as a damning allegation for a certain real-life former politician and a specific US agency.

p1The story follows a nameless writer, The Ghost (Ewan McGregor), who is offered a lucrative opportunity to ghostwrite the memoirs of former British prime minster, Adam Lang (Pierce Brosnan). The writer is invited to Martha's Vineyard where Lang is holed up in the holiday home of his American publisher (James Belushi), so they can get to work to meet a short deadline.

p2Lang's former press aid and ghostwriter Mike McAra drowned when he apparently fell off the ferry. The day after the Ghost starts reworking McAra's manuscript, Lang gets sucked into a political firestorm when his former secretary, Richard Rycart (Robert Pugh), accuses him of war crimes -- particularly for illegally handing terrorists to the CIA for torture.

p3Soon, the Ghost suspects McAra's death wasn't accidental or a suicide, but foul play. While Lang and his team are in Washington, D.C. to deal with the scandal, the Ghost does some snooping around and finds that McAra has discovered inconsistent information about Lang, especially during his Cambridge years. As the Ghost digs deeper into the secrets, he starts to fear for his life.

p4Ewan McGregor (Amelia) serves the role well, of a writer who lets fortune tempt him and his own curiosity lead him on a dangerous path. McGregor is laid back, intelligent and charming. Somehow, though, McGregor seems to play characters with temperaments close to his own, so we seem to always get similar performances out of him. Pierce Brosnan (Percy Jackson & the Olympians) has a surprisingly brief role as the prime minister. Underneath the suave exterior, he shows a sinister, explosive, and creepy side.

p5Kim Cattrall (Sex and the City) is appropriately prim and proper as Lang's assistant/mistress. Her character is interestingly one of the most sympathetic, even though she plays "the other woman." Olivia Williams (An Education) is marvelously reserved as the lonely, conflicted and neglected wife of a politician. James Belushi (Underdog) and Timothy Hutton (The Good Shepherd) are perfectly smarmy as the publisher and Lang's lawyer respectively.

p6Adapted from his own novel, Robert Harris (Enigma) works with director Roman Polanski (The Pianist) to give us a smart, intricate political thriller/mystery that is light on action but heavy on suspense. The script is extraordinary cerebral in that most of the action is in dialogue. It's more of a suspense than a thriller, however. As a mystery, though, the story lacks a real puzzle. Right from the start we kind of already know what is going on. Sure, there's a real-life counterpart. The rest of the plot revolves around the writer's sleuthing and getting himself in the hot seat. The character development is rather spotty. There's a lot of exposition during the first two acts. Only until the last act does the thrills pick up. The final twist and denouement are rather a letdown, even though the final scene was unexpected and thought-provoking.

p7While the plot is underwhelming, Roman Polanski did a great job in creating a great mood and look for the film. It reminds me very much of Woody Allen's Match Point. It's stylish, moody, and captures the desolate landscape of the eastern seaboard, which is itself a character. Gloomy and gray, one might mistake Martha's Vineyard as a British beach town. Polanski also has a great eye for details, and atmosphere, and suspense. Despite the lack of true mystery, he is able to give the film a great sense of impending dread, that we worry about the writer's life just as he does. The direction is taut, masterful and arresting.

p8It's just a shame that the story and central plot are not up to par. I'd like there to be more: more thrills, more mystery, more character, more story. Blame the writer.

Stars: Ewan McGregor, Pierce Brosnan, Kim Cattrall, Olivia Williams, James Belushi, Timothy Hutton
Director: Roman Polanski
Writers: Robert Harris, Roman Polanski (based on Robert Harris's novel)
Distributor: Summit
MPAA Rating: PG-13 for language, brief nudity, sexuality, violence and drug reference.
Running Time: 128 Minutes


Script – 6
Performance – 7
Direction – 8
Cinematography – 8
Music/Sound– 7
Editing – 7
Production – 7

Total – 7.1 out of 10

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