The Ghost Writer
Film review by: Witney Seibold
The fact remains: Roman Polanski is an excellent director. “The Ghost Writer” is one of the most gripping and rich thrillers you will see all year. It teems with a sense of dread floating in the air, and each character seems to have hidden motivations or some complex plot perhaps lurking up their sleeves. Perhaps. The film, rather than being a series of perfunctory revelations and non-sensical plot devices, uncoils coolly and maturely, like a particularly untrustworthy serpent. Here’s another critic’s word I hate to use, but is appropriate here: this film is spellbinding.
A largely indifferent (an unnamed) struggling writer (Ewan McGregor) has been hired to ghost write the memoirs of a disgraced Tony-Blair-like British politician named Adam Lang (Pierce Brosnan), who is currently embroiled in a torture scandal and hiding outside of the country. Our hero is not used to such high-profile work, but tries to remain professional in the face of the ultra-sophisticated and ultra-rich folk, all living in exile in a posh beach house in Connecticut. Our hero has also been hired to replace the last ghost writer who had, he slowly begins to uncover, died unexpectedly only a few days previous. We meet Lang’s embittered wife (Olivia Williams) and his possible mistress (Kim Cattrall). We see the group of angry protestors outside. We meet mysterious outsiders who may be on the inside, including the craggy old man (the 93-year-old Eli Wallach) and the languid, supine professor (Tom Wilkinson).
I’m sorry to be so vague about the story, but I wouldn’t want a single detail to be ruined, nor would I want to reveal any of the well-though-out details to be prematurely uncovered. I want you to see McGregor’s mounting tension for yourself. Mysterious cars in rear-view mirrors. Strange encoded messages. Hidden papers. Unclear motivations. Strangely inexplicable actions. All with a foggy glint of suspicion.
One thing I can appreciate about “The Ghost Writer” is its clever use of technology. In many recent films, plot points can hinge on what a character finds on the internet. Sadly, there are not many ways to film someone sitting at a keyboard typing and using a mouse, and make it the least bit interesting. Polanski managed to tie in internet information seamlessly into the story; it was significant that the information her found was on the internet. There is also a plot point involving a car’s GPS system that is used cleverly and intelligently.
This film is insidious. Polanski allows it to unfold in such a subtle fashion that we’re not sure we’re embroiled in a mystery until we’re way inside of it. The subtlety also allows the film to be about several things. It’s no mere investigation plot, but also has themes of government corruption, sexual power, the hint of a cover-up, and lies. It’s rare, but Polanski’s film is that rarest of breeds: a thriller for grownups.
Also, Polanski was still living in exile when he made “The Ghost Writer,” and it’s easy to see the film as a comment on his own life. I’m not going to discuss his crimes here; this is not the venue for that. I will, however, recommend that you see his film. I will close with the same sentiment I opened with. The fact remains: Roman Polanski is an excellent director.