Roman Polanski delivers a nearly flawless film**. It’s a simple premise, but it’s quite compelling. Ewan MacGregor stars as a ghost writer (who remains unnamed in the film, just as most actual ghost writers are, and he’s even credited as The Ghost) for Adam Lang (Pierce Brosnan), a former British Prime Minister whose career was clearly based upon Tony Blair. Lang is accused of war crimes and is trying to finish his memoirs as quickly as possible. Suspicions quickly arise concerning Lang’s involvement in illegal torture of terrorists and potential links to intelligence agencies. The Ghost picks up after the mysterious death of Lang’s previous ghost writer, whose cryptic notes lead The Ghost to some of the same dangerous conclusions.
Ewan MacGregor’s genuine performance grounds the film. He learns as we learn. He’s not suave, he’s not a spy, he’s actually reluctant to take the job in the first place, but he’ll do the job well by digging deeper.
In addition, the film features an excellent cast surrounding The Ghost writer. Pierce Brosnan offers a brilliant portrayal of Lang. He’s charismatic and cocky, playing into the suspicions swirling around him, while remaining rather likable. Kim Cattrall, Olivia Williams, Tom Wilkinson, and even Jim Belushi (albeit briefly; he’s actaully kind of good!) all excel in their supporting roles.
To add to the atmosphere, the compound where Lang lives is extremely isolated on Martha’s Vineyard, it rains nearly all the time, and when it doesn’t rain it’s foggy and damp. To an extent, there’s a rather Hitchcockian feel to the film considering the creepy atmosphere, the conspiracy, and the ending–this is further aided by Alexandre Desplat’s score, which is actually rather reminiscent of a Hitchcock film. It’s oddly light at times, with a strong, unique opening (with a bass clarinet, no less!) that continues to give the potentially heavy film a certain lightness.
Oh, the ending. Polanski offers a twist that I really didn’t see coming, and that’s not even the last minute. The last minute of the movie is stark, shocking, and superb. Simply wonderful.
**There was a point early on when Lang’s wife Ruth (Olivia Williams) is ranting and says “what freaking use is it now?” I’m not generally one for more cursing, but it seemed an out of place word for the tone, especially when the character doesn’t have a problem with cursing. I suspected it was dubbed out. Then, Lang shouts about telling someone to “sod off”–I’m all for Anglicizing this, I love British insults, but the camera is right in Brosnan’s face and he clearly begins that word with an “F.” Those two points were the only things that took me out of the moment, and I suspect they were done to come to a PG-13 rating, but they could have been cut better. For a second, I thought I was watching a film editing for television–badly. I really wish that hadn’t happened, but the rest of the film was absolutely brilliant.
P.S. It stinks that Roman Polanski seems to be a bit of a creeper…