Cast: The Ghost (Ewan McGregor), Adam Lang (Pierce Brosnan), Amelia Bly (Kim Cattrall), Ruth Lang (Olivia Willliams), Paul Emmett (Tom Wilkinson), Sidney Kroll (Timothy Hutton), Rick Ricardelli (Jon Bernthal), Old Man (Eli Wallach)
Director: Roman Polanski
Theatrical release: 03/19/2010 DVD Date: 08/03/2010
Review: It has long been my opinion that authors (or screenwriters, which in this case are one and the same), who have a political statement to make, are better served by writing a letter to the editor than attempting to wrap a story around their point of view and disguise it as fiction. It rarely succeeds, and most certainly doesn't in the case of The Ghost Writer, which Robert Harris adapted from his own novel The Ghost.
Pierce Brosnan stars as former British Prime Minister Adam Lang (a thinly disguised Tony Blair), who has been paid $10 million to write his memoirs. An aide to Lang had completed a draft of the book, but is later found dead, drowned off the coast of Martha's Vineyard, where Lang is staying with his wife and staff. Ewan McGregor is brought in to replace the aide as the ghost writer (he's never named in the film), and quickly suspects something is amiss. Adam Lang is currently in the news as a potential participant in war crimes against the people of Iraq for his country's involvement in the war on terror, and while the ghost writer is somewhat ambivalent about Lang's role, he discovers photographs left by his predecessor that contradict Lang's timeline of events as a college student, and link him to a prominent Harvard professor, who has current ties to the CIA. The new ghost writer follows a trail of clues that strongly suggest Adam Lang had direct knowledge of war crimes being committed, and covered them up with the covert help of the CIA.
As a noir-ish film, The Ghost Writer is remarkably well crafted, shot in neutral colors and grays, with overcast skies and near constant rain contributing to the drama and a subdued soundtrack adding atmosphere. Even the house where the Langs are staying is constructed of unfinished poured concrete: dreary and cold and uninviting. The film's direction and staging are near perfect, the pacing ideal. I liked most of the performances, though it must be said that they are, at best, understated. Politicians typically hide behind a fašade anyway, they're on stage, as it were, even when off it, so what you see isn't necessary who they are; in fact, that's a key point in the story. And the ghost writer is supposed to be invisible, a behind-the-scenes player. Still, these colorless portrayals do wear thin after a while; the only animated performances come from the ghost writer's agent (Jon Bernthal), Adam Lang's attorney (Timothy Hutton), and an old man living near where Adam Lang's aide's body was found (Eli Wallach), but all together, they have maybe 5 minutes of screen time.
No, the real problem with The Ghost Writer is the weakly developed, politically biased script. This could have been a compelling, first-rate suspense thriller had the author/screenwriter simply stuck to telling a story, and kept his personal opinions to himself. Instead, every time the suspense would start to build, an often eye-rolling political statement/scene would be inserted that just killed the moment. In the end, there are no surprises, no twists, no "a-ha" moments that are the stock in trade of thrillers, just a final scene that comes off as ludicrous as it is pointless. There's a scene in the film where the ghost writer edits the existing draft of Adam Lang's memoirs by X-ing out large sections of it, deeming them irrelevant or of no interest. Someone should have been brought in to do the same here.