Written by Robert Harris

 Directed by Roman Polanski

Starring Ewan McGregor, Pierce Brosnan, Olivia Williams






The Ghost Writer



The first scene in Roman Polanski’s new film “The Ghost Writer” has four men sitting around a publisher’s office as they offer the writer (Ewan McGregor) the job of ghosting the memoirs of Adam Lang, a former Labour Prime Minister of England – you can think Tony Blair – by offering him $250,000 for four weeks’ work.  What was odd to me about that scene is how badly Polanski directed it.  His choreography was elementary, and It seemed that his actors had little idea of how the scene held together; each one was intent on making an impression on us instead of serving the director’s purpose.  My impression was that Polanski, who’s been in Europe for thirty years, had lost some of his familiarity with the English language and couldn’t tell where the beats and pauses would be likely to come. It was a bad start for what was to be a suspense film.


From there, though, Polanski tightens up his atmospherics and suspense, and yet the story (from the novel “The Ghost” by Robert Harris), set in the aftermath of  George Bush’s invasion of Iraq, never quite has enough to it to smother us in its arms and turn us, willy nilly, from one side to another, as Polanski used to do.  The film has been compared to Hitchcock, but Hitchcock would have added something to it to make sure we had witnessed some terrible moment and would keep that in our bellies till the film ended.


Pierce Brosnan is the Tony Blair character, Olivia Williams is his wife Ruth, and the house they’ve rented for the winter on Martha’s Vinyard is spooky enough (the film was shot on the Baltic coast of Germany, since Polanski cannot come to the United States).  Rain falls almost constantly, the skies are grey, we never see the sun, and Ewan McGregor is the innocent who’s thrust into all this.  No sooner has he sat down to interview Adam than news is broadcast that Adam is wanted as a war criminal for, among other things, capturing suspected Al Queda fighters and surreptitiously sending them to the CIA for torture and death.  While we’d think that that would make Adam even more interesting, what it does is take the suspense out of the film; we already know that Tony Blair did this, that it was a criminal act by any standards, so the only question now would be will he get away with it?  It’s not enough to hang a suspense film on, and “The Ghost Writer” doesn’t ever overcome that flaw.