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Rated 2.99 stars
by 328 people

ReelTalk Movie Reviews
A Multi-Layered Thriller
by Frank Wilkins

With its lingering suspense and contemplative intrigue, The Ghost Writer will undoubtedly find itself frequently mentioned in the same breath as many of Alfred Hitchcock’s greatest films… and rightly so. The “Master of Suspense” possessed a unique way of building suspense slowly and naturally in his films, never shocking an audience with surprises or cheap gimmicks. With The Ghost Writer, Roman Polanski deploys many of the same techniques to draw us to the familiar story of an ordinary guy who falls into a strange situation that becomes more and more crazy as the film progresses

The “ordinary guy” in this case is a nameless, but successful British ghost writer (Ewan McGregor) who agrees to complete the memoirs of former British Prime Minister Adam Lang (Pierce Brosnan), a man under fire for his alleged complicity in human rights violations involving the torture of Middle East terrorists. Seems the original writer met his untimely demise in a ferry accident while working on the memoirs, but not before he managed to plant a puzzle within the pages of his first draft that may help unravel the political mystery involving the beleaguered politician.

If Brosnan’s character bears any similarity to former British Prime Minister Tony Blair, it’s not totally by accident. Robert Harris, who wrote the novel on which the film is based, was finally able to complete the story he’d been chewing on for many years when in 2006, he heard an interview with someone who wanted to bring Blair up on human rights violations. When it was mentioned that the only way for Blair to avoid prosecution would be to move to America where he couldn’t be extradited… so was born the idea of setting his novel in a coastal New England town and centering it on a character who  resembled the former world leader.

The ghost soon finds himself completing the memoirs in an oddly deserted fishing village where Lang and his family have holed themselves up to avoid the scrutiny of the press and angry protestors. The only thing more curiously prevalent than the beefed-up private security at the concrete compound, is Lang’s lack of recollection concerning his rise to power. He says his wife Ruth (Olivia Williams) first got him interested in politics. Yet when the ghost later discovers his subject had political ties even before he ever met his wife, the writer begins to realize there’s something more beneath the surface. And it might have something to do with the demise of his predecessor.

As in all his films, there are many layers to Polanski’s Ghost Writer. When peeled back, they reveal a struggle to get at the truth festering just beneath the surface… the truth in this case being disclosed in a similar manner to Rosemary’s Baby. In that film, the clues came about from an anagram in a book, whereas here the riddle is planted within the manuscript of the memoir. But to compare The Ghost Writer to any of Polanski’s previous films on anything more than a stylistic level is meaningless. His first contemporary thriller in more than 20 years represents a fresh new turn by the filmmaker, who hasn’t lost his unique verve and brilliant sense of storytelling. It’s interesting to note the irony in the fact that Polanski edited the film while under house arrest in Switzerland fighting extradition to the United States.

McGregor is actually quite good in his first meaty dramatic role in some time. He plays nicely against Williams’s Ruth, who grows stronger and stronger as the plot unfolds. It’s always good to see Tom Wilkinson, who can play charmingly sinister as well as any actor in the business today. He portrays a Harvard professor loath to reveal any connections to Lang -- and for some reason, trouble always brews whenever a pesky writer starts snooping around the professor’s place.

While The Ghost Writer is not necessarily a brainy thriller that will challenge the audience on some cerebrally superior level, it doesn’t have to be. The fun comes from watching the ghost get to the bottom of the mystery. The ordinary guy spirals deeper and deeper into the dangerous web of deceit and treachery that might involve the United States government. It’s a tightening knot of noir fascination that involves mysterious bodyguards, car chases, top-secret documents, the CIA and end even hidden codes.

(Released by Summit Entertainment and rated PG-13 for language, brief nudity/sexuality, some violence and a drug reference.)

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