The Ghost Writer Review


The Ghost Writer is an interesting enough thriller from director Roman Polanski, but there’s just nothing great about it. It keeps you at a distance for its first two-thirds before finally allowing you to become absorbed in it. Its subject is intriguing, and Polanski’s direction is quite good, so I’m recommending it. But it doesn’t quite reach the lofty level a Polanski film should reach. Chinatown this is not.

Adam Lang (Pierce Brosnan), a former British prime minister, is going through a rough time. His assistant (who was ghostwriting his memoirs) just drowned. His wife (Olivia Williams) completely shuts him out. And he is under investigation for war crimes, which turns every move he makes into a security risk. He brings in a new man, known only as ghost (Ewan McGregor) to pick up where his former assistant left off on the manuscript, just as things go from bad to worse. A former political friend betrays him, making travel to Britain impossible (he’s vacationing in an American beach town), and information begins to come out regarding the former assistant’s death—which may not have been suicide as originally reported. Ghost uncovers clue after clue, which leads him to a number of shady characters and take him deeper into the secret past of his newest subject. And the deeper he gets, the less safe he is.

Whatever you may think of Polanski personally, the man sure can direct. “The Ghost Writer” is taut and atmospheric. For a film that takes place, for the most part, at the beach, it’s always very dark and gloomy, paralleling the absence of hope for these characters to walk away from this situation happily. Lang is knee deep in shit. His wife is depressed. One man is dead. And Ghost is being threatened by anyone and everyone. I admire Polanski’s ability to create such an atmosphere in a film like this.

If only he was able to pace things better and engage us more. There are times when I thought “The Ghost Writer” moved glacially. As I said earlier, the final 30-40 minutes are top-notch. But getting to that point is a bit of a drag.

His other major misstep that prevents this from getting higher marks is the absence of a connection with the characters. You don’t feel anything toward any of them (maybe a little toward the Langs). I haven’t seen a film in a while that was this emotionally distant. Ironically, I still liked the film overall.

The acting in “The Ghost Writer” is good, not great. Ewan McGregor is a solid actor, but he just hasn’t brought his A game in so long. Here, he is one-note and very passive. Brosnan is good as the embattled former PM. We’re never quite sure whether he is being completely honest or not (which is good because the character is supposed to be a former actor). Yet, we find ourselves drawn to his charisma at least a little bit. Olivia Williams plays the film’s most interesting character with some success. It could have been a thankless part, but Williams gives us reasons to be intrigued by the character. Her story is even more puzzling than her husband’s.

“The Ghost Writer” should have been better. It sounds fascinating on paper, and for a short while, it lives up to its promise. But I couldn’t help but feel disappointed with the end result. Polanski does his best to make the material compelling, but he falls short in a number of key areas. Still, I was entertained, and the good stuff is just good enough to earn this film a solid rating and a slightly hesitant recommendation.

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