The Ghost Writer


Directed by: Roman Polanski
Written by:Roman Polanski, Robert Harris
Starring: Ewan McGregor, Pierce Brosnan, Olivia Williams, Kim Cattrall, Tom Wilkinson, Timothy Hutton
Released: August 12, 2010
Grade: A-

If you walk into your local bookstore, you’re likely to find a section filled with autobiographies.  There are many celebrities with many stories to tell.  Have you ever wondered about the obvious question?  Did they really write these books themselves?  Or was it all the work of a “ghost writer”?

It must be a strange profession.  A “ghost writer” will pour their heart and soul into something that they will receive zero credit for.  They have to become intimate with their subject and get inside their head.  They need to encapsulate the life of the person with just the right amount of flattery.  Above all else, they’ve got to craft something that’s worth reading.

As the title suggests, this film centres on a ghost writer.  He is played by Ewan McGregor and in a nice twist, the character doesn’t have a name.  He is known simply as “the ghost”.  He has been asked to write the memoirs of Adam Lang (Brosnan), a former British Prime Minister who now lives on a quiet island off the East Coast of the United States.

From the moment he becomes involved with the project, The Ghost realises that something is amiss.  He learns that he wasn’t the first choice for the job.  A previous writer had already started work on the book but died under strange circumstances.  He was taking the ferry to the mainland but somehow he fell overboard.  His body was found washed up on the beach.  Was it an accident or was foul play involved?

Things become more complicated when a major news story breaks.  Adam Lang has been accused by a former minister of authorising illegal torture against suspected terrorists whilst Prime Minister.  It’s grabbed the attention of the International Criminal Court who are now looking for evidence of these suspected war crimes.

The media are going crazy.  Lang’s keeping quiet.  He’s well out of his depth but The Ghost can’t help himself.  He takes advantage of his closeness to Lang and starts searching the truth.

The Ghost Writer is based on the novel by Robert Harris which was first published in 2007.  Harris has admitted that former British Prime Minister Tony Blair was his inspiration for the story.  I guess he wanted to explore the possibility of a modern day leader being made accountable for a war gone wrong (such as Iraq).  He’s wrapped up this idea inside an equally interesting tale about an inquisitive ghost writer.  It all adds up to a smart, well-written political thriller.

Pierce Brosnan is an ideal fit for the Adam Lang role – distinguished and intimidating.  Ewan McGregor is also good as The Ghost.  Kim Cattrall and the underrated Olivia Williams leave their mark in important supporting roles.  I admit there are a few weaknesses in the plot but the strength of the performances elevates this beyond your normal Hollywood fare.

The film was still in post production when director Roman Polanski (The Pianist) was arrested in Switzerland in September 2009.  Thankfully, he was able to complete the film (as he was only placed under house arrest).  We’re all entitled to our own opinions regarding his past but Polanski deserves credit as a filmmaker.  The Ghost Writer proves that he’s as good as ever at the age of 77.