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The Ghost Writer

Director Roman Polanski has been in the news recently for his legal difficulties, stemming from a 1977 case of statutory rape, which caused him to flee the US. Regardless of what you might think of him personally, he is a great filmmaker. His new film, The Ghost Writer, leaves no doubt of his talent.

The Ghost Writer is a suspense thriller about a young writer, simply referred to as “the Ghost” (Ewan McGregor), who is hired to be the ghost writer for Adam Lang, a retired British Prime Minister (Pierce Brosnan). Basically, the Ghost’s job is to rewrite Lang’s memoirs for publication. The Ghost takes over for another ghost writer, whose body washes up on the beach near Lang’s secluded estate, somewhere in New England.

The Ghost arrives at the heavily guarded house to meet Lang’s assistant Amelia (Kim Cattral) and wife Ruth (Olivia Williams). The Ghost sees a copy of the memoirs, but is told that they may not leave the property. The air of secrecy makes the Ghost suspicious that something is not quite right here. After the Ghost discovers some hidden photos of Lang in the room where the previous ghost stayed, he begins to wonder about his predecessor’s death. Was his drowning an accident, or the result of foul play?

Soon after the Ghost’s arrival, Lang is accused of cooperating with terrorists. Media and protestors surround the estate’s entrance. In the light of this unwelcome turn of events, Lang flies off to Washington to take advantage of photo opportunities with friendly politicians. With her husband gone, Ruth seduces the Ghost. The plot thickens.

In some ways, Ghost Writer reminded me of Polanski’s great film noir, Chinatown. In both films, the audience takes the perspective of the main character, who soon realizes that he is involved in something much more complicated and dangerous than he could have imagined. In both films, the audience doesn’t know until the final scene exactly what is going on. Polanski is in fine form, leading us further and further into the mystery.

Even though the film is set in present day, it is very much in the style of Hitchcock. It’s very suspenseful, without resorting to gory violence, non-stop profanity, and special effects. Every scene is beautifully shot, especially those at the modern Lang mansion, and along the cold winter beaches. The screenplay by Robert Harris, adapted from his novel “The Ghost,” is filled with plot twists, narrow escapes, suspicious characters, and creepy servants. There’s also a wonderful, eerie score by Alexandre Desplat worthy of Bernard Hermann, Hitchcock’s frequent collaborator. In addition, Polanski has assembled a fine cast. Brosnan is especially good as Lang, whom he plays as a charming, if scheming, politician with something to hide. The excellent actor Tom Wilkinson also has a brief, but important, role as a Harvard professor who is most definitely not open to the Ghost’s and his inquiries.

If you like a good, suspenseful movie, with a dose of political intrigue and paranoia that will keep you guessing until the end, then The Ghost Writer is for you. The great, final scene with pages from a manuscript flying through the breeze, is as good as any scene Polanski has ever filmed. It’s great to see that the director of Chinatown and Rosemary’s Baby can still keep us on the edge of our seats.

Tom Condon, OP