Director: Roman Polanski
Writers: Polanski (screenplay), Robert Harris (novel and adaptation)
Cinematographer: Pawel Edelman
Starring: Ewan McGregor, Pierce Brosnan, Olivia Williams, Kim Cattrall, Timothy Hutton, Tom Wilkinson, Eli Wallach
Studio/Run Time: Summit Entertainment, 128 min.
Surprisingly uneven, unsurprisingly subpar
Roman Polanski may be one of the screen’s best directors, but with the exception of 2002’s The Pianist the fugitive filmmaker has not created anything close to his two signature films: 1968’s Rosemary’s Baby and 1974’s Chinatown. The release of The Ghost Writer does nothing to change that.
Ewan McGregor plays a nameless author who hesitates upon receiving an offer to help complete a former British Prime Minister’s (Pierce Brosnan) autobiography. But a six-figure fee for a few weeks work quickly persuades the minister’s “Ghost” as he is called. When he arrives to the bleak and windy American island off the eastern seaboard where the minister is staying he finds the people there as dreary as the wintry weather. But the journalist’s investigative side leads him to discover information that could be criminally damaging to the minister. The Ghost’s predecessor, who mysteriously drowned, has left vague clues about the minister’s past, including possible close ties to the C.I.A. That, in turn, might explain why the minister was complicit in the American government’s torture of terrorists. His bitter wife (Olivia Williams) and his beautiful assistant (Kim Cattrell), though at odds with each other, are visibly loyal to their man.
Brosnan provides the appropriate demeanor for the charming minister who partly allows these women to steer his after-politics life, while railing about the scandal that is erupting around him. And McGregor brings his best when he is one-on-one with Brosnan. But the film’s rough edges and even rougher ending show an unusual apathy for details for the attentive Polanski. Even the brief appearances of greats like Eli Wallach and Tom Wilkinson fail to provide the spark of character for which many of Polanski’s films are recognized. The Ghost Writer is merely a decent mystery, one that should probably be seen only as a study in comparison with Chinatown, a great mystery.