It’s a shame the media circus Roman Polanski’s messy personal life almost overshadowed the release of the actual movie. Granted the director having to edit the film from prison because of a statutory rape charge made terrific copy, especially with it being someone with such a storied career as Polanski. But it takes focus away from the present truth, that “Ghost Writer” is a amazingly crafted thriller, expertly acted and stealthily unleashed.
An unnamed writer is hired to help a British Prime Minister, recently resigned; to craft his memoirs from a top secret manuscript. The fact that the writer is never named is not unusual, an author hired to anonymously shape a subject’s autobiography is rarely, if ever acknowledged (aka “ghost writer”). But the Prime Minister is Adam Lang, a staunch ally of the United States and an unwavering supporter of the War on Terror. Despite having no experience in writing political memoirs, and having his predecessor dying in a mysterious accident, he accepts what appears to be a dream job. This quickly becomes anything but that.
The Lang clan live in a bunker like beach house, amid despairing decor and amazingly high security. The manuscript is so secret it cannot leave Lang’s office. It seems odd to the writer that the tales of his life don’t even vaguely match the details given. The memoir goes from biography to nuclear hot property when Lang is indicted for war crimes, and soon there’s a barbarian horde of protesters at the gates screaming for blood. While the politician scrambles to save face, the writer learns the truth about the death of the previous writer–and he might be next. Only he has the truth, hidden somewhere in a bulky manuscript; the only way to survive is to keep hold of the work while figuring out who to trust.
If this was a fair and just universe, this would be the film Ewan McGregor that brought his talents to prominence. Not “Star Wars: Episode I”, not “Moulin Rouge”, this and only this film. He’s simply fantastic as an individual with no actual identity, who becomes a shatterpoint in world affairs. Ghost writers tend to be viewed as literary guns for hire, writing for a paycheck but no credit. McGregor welds emotion and soul into a prostitute/scribe, he makes us root for someone we actually know very little about.
As Adam Lang, Pierce Brosnan is no slouch either. On the surface, he’s appealing enough, but he’s changed to please so many audiences he has no idea who he ever was. All his memories, everything that makes him a person are so warped that even he hasn’t the foggiest idea who the real Adam Lang is. Jim Belushi is good in a cameo as the book’s publisher, a man trying to survive in publishing in a post “Harry Potter” world. Tom Wilkinson is a bit understated as a mysterious connection to the Langs from school days, while Timothy Hutton nails it as the politely reptilian lawyer. Kim Cattrall and Olivia Williams play the two important women in Adam Lang’s life, neither one is what they appear.
Author Robert Harris adapts his own novel; it’s based on the regime of Tony Blair and Harris manages to convey apparently what many felt about Blair and his close association with the United States. As for Polanski, his direction is fantastic and flawless. “Ghost Writer” has a quick pace with breathtaking visuals, combined the two artists serve a banquet for the mind and senses.
With Polanski’s past back to haunt him, perhaps it is time to separate the artist from the art. “Ghost Writer” is a phenomenal thriller, whip smart a relevant to our world today. The creation shouldn’t be punished for the crimes of the creator.
Roman Polanski (director) / Robert Harris, Roman Polanski (screenplay)
CAST: Ewan McGregor … The Ghost
Jon Bernthal … Rick Ricardelli
Kim Cattrall … Amelia Bly
Pierce Brosnan … Adam Lang
Tim Preece … Roy
James Belushi … John Maddox
Olivia Williams … Ruth Lang
Timothy Hutton … Sidney Kroll