- Rated PG-13
- Buy the BD
All photos © Summit Entertainment
Reviewed by Jason Zingale
nless you’ve been living under a rock for the last year, you probably know all about Roman Polanski’s ongoing personal troubles. In fact, you could even draw parallels between the director’s highly publicized teen sex case and the controversy surrounding one of the characters in his latest film, but just because you can doesn’t mean that you should. “The Ghost Writer” deserves to exist on its own merits, because while Polanski’s personal life may be in shambles, his professional life is still very much alive and kicking. With “The Ghost Writer,” he’s delivered yet another well-paced thriller anchored by a great lead performance that could easily serve as the brilliant finale to an equally brilliant career should it come to that.
Ewan McGregor stars as an unnamed ghostwriter who agrees to pen the autobiography of former British Prime Minister Adam Lang (Pierce Brosnan) after the original scribe is found dead from apparent suicide. Though the book is guaranteed to become a bestseller now that Lang is under investigation for human rights violations on suspected terrorists, when the new Ghost arrives at Lang's sanctuary in Martha’s Vineyard to read through the manuscript, he discovers that the book is nothing but a series of bland anecdotes. In an attempt to punch up the politico’s memoirs, however, the ghostwriter uncovers a major conspiracy that he believes might have been the real cause of his predecessor’s untimely death.
Based on the novel, “The Ghost,” by Robert Harris (who also penned the adaptation), the film shares obvious similarities to Tony Blair’s relationship with the U.S. government, even going so far as to model Adam Lang and his headstrong wife, Ruth (Olivia Williams), after the former Prime Minister and Cherie Booth. By fictionalizing all of the characters, however, it allows Polanski to tell the kind of ripped-from-the-headlines story he’s fond of without all the political baggage. Instead, he leaves all the work to his actors, and there’s not a single weak link in the group. Ewan McGregor delivers his best performance in years as the cocky ghostwriter – an evolution of the crime detective who’s actually suspicious of his assignment from Day One – while Pierce Brosnan is adequately ubiquitous as the under-fire politician. Even Kim Cattrall isn’t half-bad as Lang’s assistant/mistress, but it’s Olivia Williams’ impressive performance as his cunning wife that steals the show. This is the kind of stuff that wins Oscars, although the film’s early release date might prove to be too big of a hurdle for the veteran actress.
Williams’ role is a nice parallel of her surroundings – all wind, rain and overcast skies, yet remarkably beautiful as shot by Pawel Edelman. It’s only the second time that Polanski has collaborated with the Oscar-nominated cinematographer (the first being 2002’s “The Pianist”), but his work here will certainly be remembered come awards time. The same goes for Polanski himself, who’s crafted an intelligent Hitchcockian mystery jam-packed with suspense and great performances from the top down, including memorable cameos by Tom Wilkinson and Eli Wallach. Though the movie’s ending is almost as ambiguous as Polanski’s future, there’s no denying that he's still one of the greatest filmmakers working today. “The Ghost Writer” isn’t a career best, but it’s one that will no doubt be remembered, not for the controversy surrounding it, but for the extraordinary craftsmanship that only a director like Roman Polanski could deliver.
Single-Disc Blu-Ray Review:
The single-disc release of “The Ghost Writer” features a pretty humble collection of bonus material, but there’s still some good stuff here for fans hoping for a little behind-the-scenes information. Though it was probably asking too much for an audio commentary by Roman Polanski (he was, after all, still in the midst of a decades-long legal battle during the film’s release), he has recorded an 8-minute interview about the making of the movie. Also included is a discussion with Robert Harris about developing his novel, "The Ghost," for the big screen, as well as a cast featurette where each actor talks about their respective character and what it was like working with their co-stars.