“Although it may not be the most thrilling of thrillers, it still has a mostly credible script, great direction, and solid acting.”
by Ken B.
Roman Polanski’s The Ghost Writer is a good movie, and although it may not be the most thrilling of thrillers, it still has a mostly credible script, great direction, and solid acting. It is about a writer (Ewan McGregor) who is tapped to ghostwrite the memoirs of former British Prime Minister Adam Lang (Pierce Brosnan), after the previous author drowned under mysterious circumstances. Soon, after accusations of war crimes stemming from Lang’s former foreign secretary (Robert Pugh), his public perception plummets, and he is charged by the International Criminal Court. Our protagonist, the unnamed writer, attempts to find out what happened to his now dead predecessor, and in the process, unravels a web of conspiracies that answer questions that he may have been more safe not knowing about.
It is important, especially in the case of Roman Polanski, to keep perceptions of the artist separate from perceptions of their art. When viewed as its own product in the hands of an artistically notable (but morally abominable and criminal) filmmaker, we see a well made movie. The Ghost Writer trades what a typical movie of this kind would have (expensive action sequences) for a more natural building suspense through dialogue and backstory. It isn’t afraid to use some physical action, though – some of it appears towards the end of the film and certainly helps keep everything moving. The atmosphere is also interesting. The events are largely set on an island around Martha’s Vineyard, but because Polanski is barred from entering the United States, it was shot in Germany, which was dressed up to look the part. Cinematographer Paweł Edelman provides a clean composure, highlighting the cloudy, cold exteriors and the varying interiors, which range from Lang’s modern metal and glass house to small New England hotels. Alexandre Desplat’s grim, thumping score is weaved well into the events onscreen. It’s important but not overbearing.
The performances help drive the positive qualities home, especially Brosnan. As Adam Lang (arguably heavily based off Tony Blair), he gives a reliable kind of behavior, a man that still can operate as a politician, especially whilst under hot water. McGregor gives a performance that doesn’t have any particular quirks to it, but it works and shows how little we know about the character (which was presumably done on purpose). Kim Cattrall plays Lang’s cold assistant and Olivia Williams plays his wife. Also in the supporting cast is the late Eli Wallach as an old man, but the role is mainly to spout plot details for later. Tom Wilkinson plays a professor who turns out to have an unexpected connection to the events at hand.
There are problems with The Ghost Writer, and foremost among those is its pacing. At 128 minutes, it tends to overstay its welcome a bit. When the film speeds up in the third act, this reveals the sense of energy and urgency that it never displayed in full before the climax. This is disappointing in light of the fact that the film has all the makings of a greater, faster, and generally more able and sleeker project. The lumbering is minimal, but when you’re making a film that features high impact elements – it’s a thriller, after all, it does end up hurting The Ghost Writer’s ultimate effect on the viewer. Another problem are the more minor details of the story – there are a few too many unsettled amounts of poorly disguised raw exposition that can prove distracting, such as Eli Wallach’s character. Additionally, a few of the more out-there points towards the end are left without a proper explanation or fleshing out (I cannot discuss them fully here, as we would be dangerously entering spoiler territory).
The Ghost Writer has a lot going on, and to its credit, it is able to overcome its issues and still present itself as a film worthy of a recommendation. While notably smarter and more focused than many movies, the labor required to watch isn’t overly impeding in any sense, and can still be seen as two hours of quality entertainment.