As a longtime fan of director Roman Polanski’s work — Rosemary’s Baby, Chinatown, and The Tenant are among my favorite films of all time — I’ll see anything he does. Not at all as cautious as I might be with other filmmakers, I went into The Ghost Writer blissfully blind. I didn’t even want to know what it was about. But I suppose the cat is out of the bag now that The Ghost Writer has not only been released but has won the Silver Bear Award at the Berlin International Film Festival.
It’s not a ghost story.
The Ghost Writer is a straight-up political thriller. Starring Ewan McGregor as the scribe-for-hire of disgraced former British Prime Minister Adam Lang’s (Pierce Brosnan) long-awaited memoirs, the film starts with a slow burn at the wick and becomes ever more incendiary until it finally explodes into a bang-up ending.
While there is no supernatural or twisted element to The Ghost Writer, many of Polanski’s trademark genre flourishes abound — from the isolation of a clueless character (à la Jake Gittes), to an ever-increasing suspicion of matters unknown (“Just because you’re paranoid doesn’t mean nobody’s after you”), to a global conspiracy pared down to show its effects on just one man (think: Frantic).
The movie is cast to absolute perfection. McGregor is marvelous as the world-weary second ghost writer — the first one having died under dubious circumstances before he could finish the book. Brosnan is brilliant as the bemused, out-of-touch politician looking for new ways to reconnect with his constituents and hopefully shine up his tarnished reputation in the process. Olivia Williams is stark and sexy as the Prime Minister’s long-suffering but resilient wife, and Kim Catrall pleasantly surprises as his not-so-secret mistress. Tom Wilkinson, Timothy Hutton, and Eli Wallach are all standouts in their smaller, no less significant roles.
While the visual style isn’t as ostentatious as some of Polanski’s other movies, his re-team with Director of Photography Pawel Edelman (The Pianist, Oliver Twist) is nonetheless stunning in its sparseness and covert artiness. Alexandre Desplat's score is quietly ominous, meshing seamlessly with the overall ambiance of this compelling, calculated thriller.
With cheeky nods to old-school Faustian mysteries like Sunset Boulevard and The Third Man, The Ghost Writer is full of nail-biting suspense, dark humor, sexual tension, and revelations hiding around every corner. Even at two-and-a-half hours, the storytelling of novelist/screenwriter Robert Harris never wanes… and the ending is classic Polanski: pitch-perfect.
Why We Like It: suspenseful, tightly plotted, classic Polanski style