In a convoluted case of art imitating life, Roman Polanski's latest thriller centres on a man under siege. Novelist and screenwriter Robert Harris' thinly veiled portrait of ex-British Prime Minister Tony Blair takes on an extra level of infamy with the film's production halted by convicted pedophile Polanski's arrest and attempted extradition. With two such hulking shadows (ghosts?), it's practically impossible to take this film on its own merits, as you wonder what Polanski might have made of the material under less taxing circumstances (or whether you should support him by seeing the film at all).
This polemical context aside, The Ghost Writer is a masterfully constructed, if ultimately lackluster political whodunit. Ewan McGregor capably shoulders the film as its eponymous and nameless protagonist — as a self-confessed 'hack' biographer, he takes on Adam Lang's (Pierce Brosnan) memoirs after the mysterious death of his previous 'ghost'. Relocating to Lang's remote and fiercely modernist (haunted?) house, the ghost steps into a crucible of time and political pressure as an angry public calls for Lang's extradition to the International Criminal Court.
Although the plot plays out like a clunky game of chess, The Ghost Writer is worth seeing for Olivia Williams' flawless performance as Lang's political lioness of a wife, as well as Tom Wilkinson's scene, nay, film-stealing cameo. Alexandre Desplat's noirish score mixes well with the stark production design and crisp cinematography. In all the film is a stylish and capable thriller, but one that somehow ends up being disappointingly less than the sum of its parts.
Published on Concrete Playground
Australian release date: 12 August 2010