Convicted child rapist Roman Polanski returns to the big screen with what many are hailing as a return to form for the 76 year old auteur. The Ghost Writer is a political thriller based around the imminent memoirs of a character named Adam Lang (played by Pierce Brosnan) who’s modeled on former UK prime minister Tony Blair and his leadership regarding the War on Terror and subsequent wars in Iraq & Afghanistan.
The title of the movie refers to Ewan McGregor’s character (never named), the man hired to anonymously co-write Lang’s memoirs after the carcass of Lang’s previous ghost writer washes up onto a beach. Kim Cattrall (Sex & The City) stars as Lang’s personal assistant and mistress Amelia, while Olivia Williams plays Lang’s brilliant and embittered wife Ruth. Oh, and Jim Belushi has a cameo too.
Just days after the ghost writer starts his new assignment, Lang is indicted by the International Criminal Court for potentially authorizing war crimes, leaving the ghost writer with an urgently looming deadline for the book as he tries to piece together whether the murder and indictment are somehow connected while the international news media besieges Lang’s house.
Set mainly in the north-east of the US coastline on the picturesque island of Martha’s Vineyard, the squat yet sprawling, ultra-modern dune-side mansion of Lang’s is the sort of place you picture the management at Goldman Sachs residing. With stormy winter seas as the backdrop through the floor-to-ceiling windows, the atmosphere is muted, brooding and tense.
Other reviewers have made approving references to Alfred Hitchcock’s spirit in The Ghost Writer’s style and the resolute tautness of the plot as it progresses. But then you have to try and ignore (supposedly American characters) Ewan McGregor and Kim Cattrell lapsing into English accents. And after all the references to Halliburton and the CIA, the end really falls apart with a Da Vinci code-esque villain twist rather than saying something politically or morally resonant.
The Ghost Writer is a reasonably entertaining, well-crafted thriller, but on this evidence you have to wonder whether Polanski’s best days are behind him. Given such ripe subject matter and his own high standards, you’d think he would have had something a bit more profound to say.