Guy Farrandis
February 18, 2010 at 05:00 AM EST

The Ghost Writer

Current Status
In Season
128 minutes
Wide Release Date
Pierce Brosnan, Kim Cattrall, Ewan McGregor, Tom Wilkinson, Olivia Williams
Roman Polanski
Roman Polanski, Robert Harris
Mystery and Thriller
We gave it a B+

The Ghost Writer, Roman Polanski’s first feature in four years, has its own spectre to contend with. What the world knows about the 76-year-old filmmaker — that he’s currently under house arrest in Switzerland, still embroiled in his ugly 1977 U.S. case involving sex with a then-13-year-old girl — hovers like a phantom over every frame of this satisfying, melancholy political suspense story. The disturbing information can’t be ignored. But neither ought it distract viewers from a well-made, sleekly retaliatory, pleasurably paranoid tale in praise of enterprising (and also brave) investigative journalists and in condemnation of political skulduggery in general and right-wing Anglo-American collusion in particular. British best-selling author Robert Harris wrote the novel; Harris and Polanski penned the adapted screenplay with a feel for a contemporary movie audience sick to death of headlines about U.S. involvement in covert torture operations.

The ”ghost” of the title — who’s never actually given a name — is a reputable author (thoughtfully played by Ewan McGregor) hired to write the memoirs of controversial former British prime minister Adam Lang (Pierce Brosnan, cast to a T). Feel free to read allusions to Tony Blair in Lang’s situation, since as a journalist, Harris was once close to the ex-PM. Certainly Olivia Williams (An Education), as Lang’s powerful wife, has more than a touch of Cherie Blair’s forthrightness in her. McGregor actually plays a replacement ghost, since a previously hired scribe has died, found drowned in a suspicious accident in the waters between Lang’s secluded beach home on Martha’s Vineyard and the Massachusetts mainland as the story opens.

Polanski and Harris do a jolly good job of letting the circles of untrustworthy characters (including Kim Cattrall, blouse tucked in as Lang’s protective assistant, and Tom ? Wilkinson as a secretive Harvard prof) ripple outward, like rings from a stone thrown into water. Indeed, water figures everywhere — it’s forever raining, and the Ghost rides a bike through sad puddles. Meanwhile, at the shoreline, a severely modern, concrete bunker of a beach house filmed on German location tries to distract us from the evident fact that we’re really not on Martha’s Vineyard. After all, the director, a wanted man in the U.S., can’t set foot there. B+

Check out the trailer for The Ghost Writer

See all of this week’s reviews

You May Like