Released 2010. Director: Roman Polanksi
FERRY CROSSING AT NIGHT. AN ABANDONED CAR. A DEAD BODY washed up on the shore of a nearby island. The Ghost Writer opens in typical mystery thriller style and never loosens its grip for a minute. The movie is based on a novel by former BBC reporter Robert Harris, who has clearly put a mirror on the British government’s involvement in the Iraq war under Tony Blair. The Ghost Writer is not about the war and it doesn’t mention the Iraq War. But anyone with a basic knowledge of world events would see that Harris has taken aim at Blair point-blank in the head.
The dead man, who might have fallen overboard the ferry or murdered, used to be the ghost writer of the recently retired British Prime Minister, played by Pierce Brosnan. With his untimely demise, the ex-PM finds himself a replacement in the form of Ewan McGregor, who, true to the title, is never given a name, simply ‘the writer’ or ‘the ghost’.
In just a short time, Ewan’s research and keen instincts as an investigative writer leads to some disturbing information that would turn international politics on its head, in particular the relations between the United Kingdom and United States. Information that could certainly get him killed. Information that is most certainly the cause of his predecessor’s death. Suddenly Ewan becomes the man who knows too much.
Ewan digs deeper, whether he’s driven by a sense of morality, self-defense to find who might be threatening his life, plain curiosity or professional ethics to leave no stone unturned in his research for the prime minister’s memoir is what moves the plot forward.
In Roman Polanski’s hands, The Ghost Writer is directed with classical finesse. The scenes are composed to inform, suggest or simply evoke. The pacing allows the story to breathe and develop, as oppose to the prevalent style of stacking one incident after another in quick succession without a pause to let the drama register properly with the audience.
Polanski’s flair in creating atmosphere is evident from the first frame. Whether it’s a quiet night street or an airport bar, he manages to sculpt suspense and fore-
boding with the use of superb settings. Chief of all is a grand isolated house, then all those stretches of deserted beach, a low, darkening sky threatening to pour, and a man on a bicycle miles from anywhere...
In this wary landscape riddled with secrets and deception, who can our ghost writer trust? Every character in the story is ambiguous and keeps you guessing until the very end. The prime minister, his unhappy wife, his coldly efficient aide (and mistress), his devious political rival, his media savvy American adviser, an outraged protestor, and Tom Wilkinson appearing late in the movie as a professor and a mysterious contact from the politician’s younger days. Harris and Polanski keep you wondering where these characters stand and who’s hiding information of such consequence it justifies murder.
The Ghost Writer is a classy and riveting thriller, combining fictional elements with historical references and scathing indictment on the British government as an instrument of Bush’s war games. It also features a house so stunning it belongs in the pages of Architectural Digest.