March 28, 2010

The Ghost


Roman Polanski's screen adaptation of Robert Harris's novel The Ghost Writer starts with cars disembarking from the Martha's Vineyard ferry, until one car is ominously left unclaimed. Then we see a body washed up ashore, which turns out to be that of Mike McAra. He was a ghost writer working on the memoirs of former U.K. Prime Minister Adam Lang (Pierce Brosnan). Another writer (Ewan McGregor) who remains unnamed in the film, reluctantly takes over the task of completing the book. Unfortunately, Mr. Lang, who's been very friendly to U.S. interests is accused by his former Foreign Secretary Richard Rycart (played by Robert Pugh) of being a war criminal. His crime? Allowing suspected terrorists to be kidnapped and handed over to the CIA for torture. As the ghost delves deeper into the disgraced leader's life, he finds many inconsistencies and mysteries that will put his life in jeopardy.

The performances are top-notch. The talented Mr. McGregor is faultless as the smart, funny, initially apolitical biographer. His conscience won't allow him to step away from the political intrigue as he continues with his increasingly dangerous research. Mr. Brosnan is perfect as the arrogant politician. Olivia Williams is the icy, beautiful and intelligent Ruth Lang, the power behind the man. The rest of the ex-PM's retinue is led by Amelia Bly (Kim Cattrall with a strange English accent). Tom Wilkinson plays enigmatic Harvard Professor Paul Emmett. Watch out for brief cameos from James Belushi and Timothy Hutton. Now if like me, you were wondering where the film was shot (in light of Mr. Polanski's legal troubles), Berlin=London; Sylt, Germany=Massachusetts. The scenes of the gray and desolate coast are beautiful.

The movie is a compelling, slick political thriller with plenty of unexpected humorous dialogue. It doesn't rely on gimmickry or action scenes to build the suspense. It's all in the clever screenplay. There are thinly veiled references to Tony Blair, Halliburton (Hatherton in the movie) and Secretary of State Condoleeza Rice. Although I figured out early on who the villains are, the reveal (and the movie's haunting last shot) still caught me off-guard. So sit back, try to relax, and enjoy this potboiler.
(poster from screencrave)

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