Don’t miss Roman Polanski’s taut new thriller, THE GHOST WRITER
. Finally – a grown-up film that doesn’t talk down to its audience!
Polanski guides the audience through the subtly-building tension by way of the character of “The Ghost” (Ewan McGregor), a professional ghost writer whose actual name is never revealed. His pushy, somewhat annoying agent (Jon Bernhal) coaxes him to take over “fixing” the memoirs of a former British Prime Minister whose previous “ghost” has washed up dead on the beach, and McGregor’s character reluctantly agrees.
The ex- Prime Minister, Adam Lang (Pierce Brosnan), is holed up in the Martha’s Vineyard home of a wealthy corporate leader, where he is supposed to be finishing his book. In reality, Lang is about to be accused of war crimes for colluding with the CIA in some nasty business involving torture of suspected terrorists. By the time The Ghost arrives, groggy and jet-lagged, the complications have begun.
Ewan McGregor gives a brilliant performance as a man who is a sort of a “ghost.” He has no personal life to speak of – no family and, apparently, few friends. He spends his life writing the stories of others, a vicarious kind of experience, implying that his own life offers little of interest. As Lang’s wife Ruth (Olivia Williams) says, “After all, you’re not a proper writer.” He’s actually not a very proper man, either. His sense of morality seems optional; he only has ethics as they pertain to his work. He is reminiscent of the Jake character in CHINA TOWN; he considers himself to be worldly, but is actually naďve about the workings of power and wealth. The realization that he has been put in real danger comes slowly as he tries to sort out the mess of Lang’s memoirs and the impending real-life crisis.
Pierce Brosnan portrays the charismatic Lang as a somewhat hapless fellow outside of his public persona. His wife is the political brain in the family, and his personal tasks and obligations are managed by a staff of women headed by Amelia Bly (Kim Cattrall), who is also his mistress. His political life was probably always a house of cards, but he doesn’t seem to have realized it until it’s about to come tumbling down. There are a number of small, but stand-out, performances as well. Timothy Hutton slithers adeptly around the film as Lang’s smarmy lawyer.
James Belushi, surprisingly bald, does a fine job as The Ghost’s world-weary, cynical publisher. Tom Wilkinson (Carmine Falcone in BATMAN BEGINS), always a reliable performer, chills as an effete academic, denying his obvious connection to Lang’s mess, while using vocabulary that implies, “I’m very smart, so don’t mess with me!” Eli Wallach makes a welcome appearance as an island old-timer who confirms McGregor’s character’s suspicions about his predecessor’s death.
The gradually-rising suspense, punctuated by a few exclamation points, creates an edgy atmosphere, reflected in the protagonist’s growing unease. Greeted by gray skies and driving rain, he arrives at the beach house, a contemporary, black monstrosity that looks more like a tomb – appropriate because the family relationships inside the house are all dead. Outside, everything is gray and hazy, just like the memoirs he is trying to untangle. Nothing is as it seems; everything is obscured by interruptions, distractions, and barriers. The staff treats the manuscript as if it were gold; it cannot leave the premises and is kept under tight security for, at least to McGregor’s character, no apparent reason. The film uses light and shadow very effectively to keep the protagonist, and the viewer, slightly off balance. Some things that happen in daylight are not nearly as clear as they seem, and the protagonist can never see all that he needs to see in the darkness. The resolution of the story is satisfying, but not conclusive. Just as in real life, some hazy areas are not meant to become clear.
And who knows what would happen if they really did? - JoAnne Hyde