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March 10, 2010 > Movie Review: The Ghost Writer - A Deft Political Thriller

Movie Review: The Ghost Writer - A Deft Political Thriller

By Joe Samagond

Based on a 2007 novel by Robert Harris, "The Ghost Writer" (2010) is an intelligent and taut political thriller. A ghost writer is usually someone who is paid to write, usually the memoirs of a public figure. In this movie, the ''ghost'' is a reputable author (Ewan McGregor) hired to write the memoirs of controversial former British Prime Minister Adam Lang (Pierce Brosnan). Interestingly, McGregor's character does not have a name, and actually plays a replacement ghost, since the previous writer, Mike McAra, was found drowned in a suspicious accident off the Massachusetts coast, as the story opens. Lang's wife Ruth (Olivia Williams) is smart, ambitious and manipulative, and looks the other way as Lang conducts an affair with his aide Amelia (Kim Cattrall).

The "ghost" travels to the secluded island of Martha's Vineyard, off the coast of Boston where Lang is currently residing during his US lecture tours. Caught up in a web of scandal and treachery, the story gains momentum as Lang is accused of colluding with the CIA in illegally kidnapping and torturing suspected Al Qaeda terrorists. The charges escalate and Lang finds himself at the center of an investigation by the World Court for suspected war crimes. Lang flees from the island to go to Washington DC, to try to shore up his reputation while fighting extradition.

This movie is superbly directly by Roman Polanski, who has been in the news for other reasons lately. It builds suspense smoothly instead of depending on shock and frenzy. Well written screenplay, by Harris and Polanski themselves, motors the movie along through subtle turns. The atmosphere - a rain-swept Martha's Vineyard in winter - has an ominous ambience and the interior of their refuge looks just as cold, though it is a better venue than Shutter Island which was also based off the Massachusetts coast. Performances by the actors are masterful and convincing as intriguing secrets are slowly revealed. Brosnan turns in a great performance with intensity and McGregor is dogged, charming and sympathetic. Their verbal duels provide a dazzling game of cat-and-mouse. Alexandre Desplat's musical score, with its playful notes and urgent rhythms, work to further establish an atmosphere of thoughtfulness and intelligence.

Since Polanski couldn't travel to the US without being arrested, he used Berlin for London and the island of Sylt in the North Sea to substitute for Martha's Vineyard. If you are a fan of political movies, you will find "The Ghost Writer" to be a solid thriller that will keep you guessing till its shocking finale.


Rated: PG-13
Runtime: 2 hours 8 minutes

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