With sureness of touch Polanski adapts a Robert Harris novel and creates a stylish but bleak landscape as the backdrop to a tale of intrigue surrounding a former British Prime Minister (Pierce Brosnan) who is accused of war crimes. While writing his political memoirs, his ghost-writer drowns in mysterious circumstances. A new ‘ghost’ (Ewan McGregor) is brought in, and the film changes into a Hitchcock-style thriller. (Cert 15)
Dir: Roman Polanski 123 mins UK/Fra./Ger. 2010
UK/Fra./Ger. 2010 123 minutes Cert. 15
Ewan McGregor portrays the eponymous ghost writer, taken on to improve the memoirs of ex-prime minister, Adam Lang (Pierce Brosnan), after the earlier incumbent drowns en route to Lang’s borrowed island holiday home on Martha’s Vineyard, Massachusetts. Setting to work on the island, the ghost realises his predecessor had discovered new content that would transform the autobiography and make it worthy of its multimillion pound advance. Meanwhile, Richard Rycart (Robert Pugh), the former foreign minister, accuses Lang of passing suspected terrorists to the CIA for torture and Lang is indicted internationally for war crimes. As our ghost warily pursues his leads, he becomes increasingly suspicious of those around him and tension mounts in this carefully constructed thriller.
Roman Polanski co-wrote the screenplay with Robert Harris, the author of the 2007 novel from which The Ghost is adapted. The strong cast includes Olivia Williams as Lang’s wife and Kim Cattrall as his PA (and mistress). There are cameo appearances by (95 year old) Eli Wallach and James Belushi.
The film won the award for best director at the 2010 Berlin International Film Festival. It was released in the USA as The Ghost Writer.
Reviewers have noted two sets of parallels with reality in this film. Plainly there are suggestions of the author of A Journey, his clever wife and a disenchanted foreign secretary (although Robert Pugh resembles Charles Clarke rather more than Robin Cook). The other parallels are with someone else facing legal proceedings elsewhere and consequently confined in where he can travel: the director.
Using German locations for where he cannot travel, and second units in the UK and Massachusetts, Polanski shot the film in 2009 before his arrest in Zurich in the September. He completed post-production from his Swiss villa.
Look out for the satnav as deus ex machina!
The Ghost Ewan – McGregor
John Maddox – James Belushi
Adam Lang – Pierce Brosnan
Ruth Lang – Olivia Williams
Amelia Bly – Kim Cattrall
Paul Emmett – Tom Wilkinson
Richard Rycart – Robert Pugh
Director – Roman Polanski
Screenplay – Robert Harris, Roman Polanski
Cinematography – Pawel Edelman
Original Music – Alexandre Desplat
Producers – Robert Benmussa, Roman Polanski, Alain Sarde
“The Ghost Writer is handsome, smooth and persuasive. It is a Well-Made Film. Polanski at 76 provides a reminder of directors of the past who were raised on craft, not gimmicks, and depended on a deliberate rhythm of editing rather than mindless quick cutting.”, Roger Ebert, Chicago Sun-Times
“The Ghost Writer is one of Polanski’s better films, the work of a director in complete control and at the height of his powers. Every moment is invested with meaning. All angles, compositions and shots work in the service of a mood and an idea.”, Mick LaSalle, San Francisco Chronicle
“director and co-writer Polanski turns a conventional conspiracy thriller into a triumph of tone, ensemble playing and atmospheric menace.”, Michael Phillips, Chicago Tribune
“Top stuff! I wasn’t expecting a thriller.”
“Wonderful film – edge of the seat, nail biting stuff. Best film of the season so far.”
“Had me on the edge of my seat. Second half better than the first but what an ending! Well done Roman Polanski!”
“Excellent – a superb choice”
“Excellent and most enjoyable”
“Totally gripping! The suspense never let up for a minute.”
“A gripping and surprisingly humorous tale with an understandable twist.”
“Gripping stuff – Cherie beware!”
“Slick and sharp – just like the former government!”
“Well, it had to be better than A Journey. Great to see such taut direction, though.”
“An atmospheric thriller about a ‘ghost’ of a politician? Tony Blair?”
“Despite the simple story structure, [this film] is destined to become one of Polanski’s finest. This could be for [any of] the music, performances or set design in telling this excellent thriller.”
“Jolly good entertainment!”
“Excellent – many surprises and intricate ideas”
“Many well-observed details”
“An interesting film, urgent, controversial and well put together. Some good performances – but not all!”
“Tense and fast moving but I frequently lost some of the loose ends.”
“Often confused but fun!”
“Well, wasn’t it [just] a bit far fetched? It all fell into place rather too neatly. Great cinematography, though, [and] a really good yarn!!”
“Took rather a while to get to its conclusion. [The] grey weather, surroundings, etc. were boring rather than atmospheric!”
“Nice to look at but risible. The Foreign Secretary as Mr Big … ?”
“Slow paced and lacking suspense. Little atmosphere and far longer than necessary.”
“At least it had a happy ending!”
“OK [film] – the ending was sudden. One funny line, ‘You’re not kittens’! ”
“So who killed him?”