Review: The Ghost Writer

23 August 2010

Written by: Sarah Green

Roman Polanski’s The Ghost Writer is a fast-paced political thriller equipped with complex characters and twisted plots.

Nameless character The Ghost (Ewan McGregor), travels to Martha’s Vineyard, the stormy, rather dismal island off the coast of Massachusetts, to finish the memoirs of former British Prime Minister, Adam Lang (Pierce Brosnan). The death of Lang’s former ghost writer, Mike McAra, makes for a suspicious sub plot which leads The Ghost, into a whirlwind of controversy.

When the retired Prime Minister is accused of past war crimes, The Ghost’s novelist vocation turns journalistic as he runs the gamut piecing together the puzzle McAra left behind in his version of the memoirs.

Adding tension to the story is Lang’s secretary and mistress Amelia (Kim Cattral) and bitter wife Ruth (Olivia Williams). Their snide comments and verbal bitch slaps create an element of awkwardness to each of their scenes complementing the uncomfortable situation that is The Ghost’s job.

After getting past Cattrals’ horrible attempt at an English accent, the film unravels in a fluid fashion drawing you deeper into the layered storyline. Polanski relies heavily on the news to connect plot points. In the background of most scenes was CNN filling in the blanks of Lang’s public accusations. The Ghost takes the audience into the truth behind Lang’s other political mistakes, paralleling what’s reported in the  media and creating an exhilarating chase for answers.

Although it was cleverly done, I wasn’t sold on the story line. Based on the novel by journalist Robert Harris, The Ghost was controversial upon its release as it was said Lang was literature’s version of Tony Blair. This probably adds to the fact that the war crimes accusations and the unveiling of Lang’s other past political choices are rather predictable.

Harris, who also wrote the screenplay, interweaves these two plots with The Ghost in charge of tying them together. The amount of visual metaphor, like the gloomy weather at Martha’s Vineyard, made for an eye rolling experience as the themes couldn’t be spelled out more clearly. Even the left field turning points in the plot didn’t peak in the film, it was like I had seen it all before. The ending, one of the most artistically shot scenes throughout, was lacklustre as the lead up to it made the point too obvious.

Regardless, I was along for the ride. The Ghost is a loveable loner; his name defines him, no past, family or any personal information to build him as a person. Yet, his general decency and wry humour make him easily likeable. McGregor is exceptional at playing the nice guy in the wrong place at the wrong time.

Despite the unsurprising twists, the film was eye-pleasing and exciting. The characters were full bodied, keeping me interested. A shame about the plot though, perhaps it just goes to show that too much research can sometimes ruin a good story.

Meghan Lodwick is a Master of Global Communications student and a member of the upstart editorial team.