Rated PG-13 for language, brief nudity/sexuality, some violence and a drug reference, 128 minutes
Polanski channels Hitchcock in the stylish thriller "The Ghost Writer"
Acclaimed French director Roman Polanski's offscreen life makes the headlines more than his movies lately, and in spite of that, or maybe because of it, he's crafted a superb Hitchcock-flavored thriller in "The Ghost Writer." Captivating and complex, well-paced and bearing Polanski's own unique slyly dark touches, it makes old-fashioned suspense seem new again.
Ewan McGregor is a successful British ghost writer who's hired by the former British Prime Minister Adam Lang (Pierce Brosnan) to help complete his memoirs. It seems a daunting yet fabulous opportunity when the ghost writer (who's never given a name) arrives to help Lang in a huge beach front mansion on Martha's Vineyard after his previous ghost writer turned up dead as his body washed ashore on the island.
The following day, Lang is accused of war crimes by a former colleague and things seem to go awry. Lang finds himself in the middle of an increasingly complicated situation, made more interesting by Lang's loyal assistant (Kim Cattrall), his glib, highly intelligent wife Ruth (Olivia Williams) and a shady Harvard professor (Tom Wilkinson). The ghost writer must play detective and put together clues with the startling truth far closer than he ever imagined.
Polanski's well-crafted, well-acted intriguing political thriller "The Ghost Writer" is one of the better films of the new year. Polanski's stylish direction holds the film together along with a great, centerpiece performance from McGregor as the anonymous ghost writer who knows more than he should. Interestingly, the film is an interesting choice for the Oscar-winning director of "The Pianist," who hasn't done a thriller like this since his now-classic "Chinatown" and who essentially finished post-production for the film under house arrest stemming from age-old charges of his own.
You can easily forget Polanksi's personal troubles with the engaging, vastly entertaining "The Ghost Writer," which for his own personal reasons, was not shot in the U.S. but overseas (and if you pay close attention, Martha's Vineyard looks very European, one minor distraction). Based on Robert Harris' fictional novel "The Ghost" and loosely based on some of Harris' own personal feelings for the real former British Prime Minister Tony Blair, there are a obvious implausibilities (yes, the British government does have and read the internet) in the last act, but in large part it all comes together nicely.
Even better is veteran film composer Alexandre Desplat, who makes sublime use of violin and is "The Ghost Writer's" biggest homage to Hitchock himself along with sturdy performances from everyman McGregor and Brosan, doing a laidback but blowhard Blair imitation. Even better is Tom Wilkinson as the professor's who's clearly hiding something along with the always excellent Olivia Williams (seen recently and all too briefly in "An Education") as essentially a sinister, British version of Hillary Clinton. For those wondering about Cattrall, best known for "Sex and the City," she's micast here with a thin, wandering British accent, but she's still an enjoyable presence.
You won't easily forget the ominous ending to "The Ghost Writer," which is heard and unseen, after all, who'll believe the ghost writer, who was virtually anonymous all along. "The Ghost Writer" is enjoyable, enticing entertainment with Polanski leaving his huge imprint on the film and have you clamoring for more. If you can't get enough of him, rent "Chinatown," his best film, over a plate of pasta and good wine.