scribe (Ewan McGregor) have a bit of tense communication in a scene from "The Ghost Writer".
This adaptation of the Robert Harris novel "Ghost" marks Roman Polanski's return to the thriller films like "A Knife in the Water" (1962), "Repulsion" (1965) and "Chinatown" (1974) that he excels at. Although I certainly don't endorse Mr. Polanski's past behaviors with under age girls, it's undeniable he is one of the best living directors working in films today.
The film concerns a hired ghost writer of celebrity memoirs who agrees to shape up the biography of ex-British Prime Minister Andrew Lang. (The previous ghost-writer drowned accidentally in the waters off Massachusetts' cold Atlantic shore--or so that's the official story.)
The protagonist encounters a large bunker-like VIP beach house where Lang is holed up with his nervous and weary wife Ruth (Olivia Williams), a pack of security personnel, and his tough and alluring personal secretary Amelia (Kim Catrall) whom Ms. Lang strongly suspects of being Lang's mistress. The whole set-up crackles with personal tension.
The writer has just a few weeks to make a workable product out of Lang's verbal ramblings and boring political anecdotes. He is a one time Cambridge University actor who took a sudden interest in politics and rose quickly to the leadership of the Labour Party in the 80's and 90's. Brosnan and the writers do a good job here creating a PM who is at times charming, easy-going and a little superficial (good qualities for an American leader to project as well) but quick-tempered and a tight-lipped person once the doors close. Lang is a man who has been following a script long after he ceased being an actor. The question at the center of the film is: Who is writing that script? Lang himself, or the CIA?
(I personally have found it hard to get through modern politicians memoirs, and pretty much have given them a pass in the last few years. It seems the more powerful someone was, the less likely it is he or she can be candid about what actually happened while they were in office. And all memoirs written by future candidates are inevitably guarded and coy.)
The tension ratchets up nicely when the writer discovers that Lang has been charged with being a war criminal by human rights groups and by his ex-foreign minister for allowing four British citizens to be seized by the CIA and taken to a "black ops" site where one of them died in custody. There is also the question of Lang stretching the "special relationship" between Her Majesty's government and the Americans to a point where he was all too eager in the past to do what Washington wanted in matters of war and national security . (Does any of this sound familiar?)
The films has enough twists and red herrings to satisfy not only political types but also those who enjoy a good tale of intrigue and underhandedness told with intelligence and wit. The film works well in part because right up to the end you are not sure what to make of Andrew Lang or those closest to him and the writer, like any good writer, is overcome with a searing desire to simply tell the truth--if he can only live long enough to find out what it is.
The whole cast of this film does an excellent job. Both Olivia Williams and Kim Cattrall make the most of their supporting roles. I had my doubts about the fetching former "Sex and the City" star playing such a steely power player, having only seen her in comic roles heretofore, but she obviously can handle more subtle dramatic roles than she has ever found in Hollywood assignments.
Ewan McGregor The Ghost
Kim Cattrall Amelia Bly
Olivia Williams Ruth Lang
Pierce Brosnan Adam Lang
Timothy Hutton Sidney Kroll
Tom Wilkinson Paul Emmett
Robert Pugh Richard Rycart
James Belushi John Maddox
Eli Wallach Old Man
Jon Bernthal Rick Ricardelli
Screenplay by Robert Harris and Roman Polanski.