One thing is for certain, Roman Polanski knows how to build tension and The Ghost Writer delivers on that front and is, for the most part, a very satisfying paranoid thriller of which Polanski is a known master. The story twists and turns down a few roads I didn’t see as necessary, but in the end it delivers a punch you most likely saw coming, but were never entirely convinced would actually arrive.
Ewan McGregor stars as The Ghost, a writer for hire. He finds himself ghosting the memoirs of former British Prime Minister Adam Lang played by Pierce Brosnan. Knee deep in political scandal and surrounded by protestors at every turn, Lang isn’t exactly a prime subject for a glowing autobiography. Things look even worse when taking into consideration McGregor’s predecessor died under mysterious circumstances.
Nevertheless, locked away in a beach-side fortress in Martha’s Vineyard, The Ghost takes to his duties, attempts to sort through the lies and deception and the closer he gets to the truth the more ominous the plot becomes. He must now decide how deep he wants to dig as he’s watched closely by Lang’s assistant, played by Kim Cattrall sporting one of the worst English accents I’ve heard in some time, and grows ever closer to Lang’s wife played beautifully by Olivia Williams whom we last saw as the school teacher in An Education.
McGregor, however, is the highlight as he most often is anytime he isn’t involved in a film sporting a budget of considerable size. As long as you get him into true actor’s territory he’s one of the best and The Ghost Writer is no exception in a role that carries the film. He even outshines Tom Wilkinson, who appears to be uncharacteristically sleepwalking through his limited screen time.
The screenplay, which was, predominately, adapted by Robert Harris working from his own source novel, carries shades of Polanski’s personal life as the director contributed slightly to the story. This is hardly a surprise, and it’s relatively easy to shrug off as Polanski’s exploits have been the source of a recent documentary and even more recently publicized to the point of such rabid lunacy you can only laugh the film’s parallel’s off, which I am sure will outrage the mob even more.
However, if you aren’t packing up your pitchfork, you’re caught up in the tension filled narrative as there is rarely a moment were the audience is given a chance to breathe. Especially before, during and after a late chase sequence proving The Ghost Writer does everything it can to keep the viewer on edge. Despite this, there are occasional setbacks involving unnecessary extra-marital affairs and scenes that just appear unfinished either by shoddy editing or green screen work that sticks out like a sore thumb.
Considering Polanski was either detained by the Swiss or living under house arrest during the final edit, I’m willing to cut him some slack as Summit obviously hoped to take advantage of the headlines and is rushing this into theaters as fast as possible. No problem, I’ll take it however I can get it, although the irony of seeing a Polanski film that never feels like it has fully matured does seem a bit creepy.
One thing I am certain of, is this film will incite naysayers without having seen it. In all likelihood I will receive hate mail just for reviewing it and giving it a positive review. I can’t imagine what those same folks would think if they saw the film and picked up on the correlation between the story and Polanski’s real life, perhaps even feeling as if the director was laughing as he did so. But one must separate the art from the artist and in that respect I would never suggest someone avoid a Polanski film based on a negative opinion of the man himself.
This isn’t to say a Polanski film gets a pass merely because of the director in charge, but The Ghost Writer is solid mystery-laden pulp, and I can just as easily praise his film as I can condemn his actions. And, for what it’s worth, I do the former with enthusiasm and the latter isn’t my job to debate.