Sunday 31 October 2021

Movie Review: The Ghost Writer (2010)

A drama and conspiracy thriller, The Ghost Writer (also known as The Ghost) mixes complex suspense with shallow characters before snagging on too many competing mysteries.

A ghostwriter (Ewan McGregor) is recruited to complete the autobiography of former British Prime Minister Adam Lang (Pierce Brosnan), after the previous writer Mike McAra died by drowning. The ghostwriter travels to Martha's Vineyard, where Lang now lives with his wife Ruth (Olivia Williams) and assistant Amelia (Kim Cattrall). As soon as the ghostwriter starts to polish-up the book manuscript, Lang is accused of war crimes by his former Foreign Secretary Richard Rycart (Robert Pugh). Lang's entourage swings into damage control.

The ghostwriter uncovers inconsistencies in the former PM's stories about his entry into politics while at Cambridge, and is then thrust into the middle of Adam and Ruth's disintegrating marriage. He then starts probing Lang's shady connections to Harvard Professor Paul Emmett (Tom Wilkinson), and finds his own life in danger.

Directed and co-written by Roman Polanski based on the Robert Harris book, The Ghost Writer enjoys a brooding physical aesthetic and plenty of secrets waiting to be divulged. The isolated seaside location of Lang's villa adds an element of rugged isolation, emphasized by unwelcoming weather - it's almost always cloudy or raining. The narrative framework features an outsider attempting to reveal a politician's essence, and the writer's arc of discovery is as much a revelation of his own naivete as it is about uncovering the ugly games fuelling global politics.

But weaknesses lurk in the thicket of events. Neither the writer nor Lang are provided the opportunity to round into worthwhile people. Almost ironically nameless, the writer remains a blank canvass of aimlessness, bumbling into affairs beyond his pay grade. And the supposedly central figure of Lang, around which historical and current affairs swirl, is whisked away on trips to defend his reputation almost as soon as he is introduced. Only Ruth is afforded the luxury of exposition, and Olivia Williams grabs it with a performance of simmering toxicity.

The Ghost Writer is never less than engaging, but eventually detaches from fundamentals. The sub-quests start tripping on each other and Polanski appears unsure which story to chase. War crimes, typical CIA shenanigans, a broken marriage, secrets and lies from yonder years, a dead body washed up on the rugged coast, the threat of assassination by an unhinged assailant, and finally cliche thriller chase elements are crammed into a few days of the ghost writer's life. If only pompous political memoirs could really be this exciting.

All Ace Black Movie Blog reviews are here.

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