I doubt there are very many fans of Roman Polanski the man, but as a film director there are many. It’s easy to forget, amongst his extradition hearings and house arrest, that he’s made some amazing films such as Chinatown, Rosemary’s Baby and The Pianist. Unfortunately, it’s difficult to watch one of his films without his own nefarious back-story of rape allegations tainting, to some degree, the proceedings. The fact that a person can, if only for a moment, become lost in a Polanski film (even if it is begrudgingly) is a testament to his filmmaking abilities. In his latest effort The Ghost Writer, Ewan McGregor plays an unnamed writer looking to make a quick buck by anonymously assisting former British Prime Minster Adam Lang (Pierce Brosnan) in constructing his memoirs. Lang, a thinly veiled Tony Blair type, has recently retired and is living in the US. He is feeling the heat for his perceived position as the United States’ lapdog in the war on terror.
McGregor’s character has been brought in to assure that Lang’s autobiography is completed by the publisher’s deadline after the original ghost writer turns up dead. The young author quickly discovers that there are certain areas of Lang’s past that the politician would just as soon gloss over. This fact, combined with Lang being charged for war crimes due to turning over enemy combatants to the C.I.A. for interrogation, causes the scribe to dig a little deeper than the parties involved are comfortable with.
The Ghost Writer is a taut psychological thriller. Fraught with conspiracy and intrigue, it harkens back to the genre’s heyday back in the 1970s. Similar in tone and scope to films such as The Parallax View and Polanski’s own Chinatown. Polanski starts slow (perhaps a bit too slow) and slowly immerses us in a world of power and secrecy. As the tension mounts, Polanski takes the film to positively Hitchcockian proportions.
While the film has parallels to Polanski’s own life (namely a main character unable to leave a foreign land for fear of facing criminal prosecution), they are not the point of the film; though they can be mildly distracting. The film’s main downfall, besides its overly deliberate first act, is the somewhat rudimentary nature of the conspiracy at work. Without revealing too much, as soon as you see the parties involved, it’s fairly obvious that the collusion at hand has been lifted straight from the comments section of The Huffington Post or The Daily Kos. The film takes such pains to craft a sense of impending doom and menacing forbearance that it’s something of a letdown when we discover what’s actually going on. But the film’s final moment, though somewhat predictable, is rendered with such subtle dexterity that it almost makes up for it…almost.