The Ghost Writer barrels along, throwing out clues as it goes, as a good thriller should. Director Roman Polanski (Rosemary’s Baby, Chinatown) creates this strong narrative drive by putting more and more pressure on the title character (Ewan McGregor) and making us feel like we’re in his shoes, feeling the hot breath of his pursuers and his rising fear and uncertainty. For his direction, Polanski won the Silver Bear at the Berlin Film Festival, the European Film Award, and the César Award in France, his country of birth.
The Ghost Writer is the third film starring Ewan McGregor that I’ve presented on SBS TV, after Perfect Sense and Beginners. I’ve never made any secret of the fact that, frankly, I think he’s adorable. In The Ghost Writer he’s lost that smile that often seems to play across his face and there’s a seemingly new vulnerability to him – but it just adds to his appeal.
The Ghost Writer is a political thriller in which the character of charismatic former British Prime Minister Adam Lang (Pierce Brosnan) is accused of war crimes at the time his memoirs are being written for him. The script was adapted from the book The Ghost by its British author Robert Harris and Polanski. Harris has said that the story “crystalised” when the former British Prime Minister Tony Blair was accused of war crimes. The film is a piece of entertainment, not a fictionalised account of real events in the way that, say, Zero Dark Thirty purports to be, but the highly political themes of war crimes and the UK’s allegiance to the US and the role of the International Criminal Court are of the moment and relevant to Australia.
The day dreaming factor
On a lighter note, The Ghost Writer is perfect for viewers who are desperate for a holiday or a weekend away because they can project their fantasies directly onto Lang’s sensational house and its isolated, wild, seaside location. In the story, the house is on the island of Martha’s Vineyard in the US, but the exteriors and interiors were actually filmed on islands in the North Sea and the Baltic Sea. It is a good example of the magic of filmmaking.
The female characters
The quietly snarly interactions between Lang’s wife Ruth (Olivia Williams) and his personal assistant/girlfriend Amelia (Kim Cattrall) are interesting to observe. Tilda Swinton was originally cast as Ruth – and Nicolas Cage the ghost writer. It is interesting to muse on the effect of this change on the film.
The brilliant ending
The Ghost Writer has a cracker of a final scene to go with the film’s cracking pace. That’s all I’ll say.