Roman Polanksi loves exploring fear and claustrophobia, and these elements are present -- omnipresent, actually -- in The Ghost Writer. This is a combination political drama and mystery.

Ewan MacGregor plays a ghost writer (his character is never named, so let's call him the Ghost) who gets a seemingly ideal assignment: ghost-write the memoirs of Adam Lang (Pierce Brosnan), former Prime Minister of Britan now living in Cape Cod. Mike McCarra, the last person to work on the memoirs (and a friend of Adam's), either committed suicide or drowned accidentally. So the Ghost has to go to Cape Cod and take up where his predecessor left off.

Things become menacing almost instantly -- the Ghost is mugged and a manuscript he is carrying is stolen on his way home after getting the job -- and soon become more complex at Adam Lang's home. Ruth Lang (Olivia Williams), Adam's wife, seems extremely bitter and upset with him. Amelia Bly (Kim Cattrall) is Adam's assistant and possible mistress. Adam himself is quite mercurial, charming and relaxed one instant, angry and defensive the next. And his home is filled with security, leaving the Ghost feeling watched.

During the assignment, the news comes that Adam Lang is being charged by the International Court for war crimes, specifically an illegal kidnapping of terrorism suspects so they'd be turned over to the C.I.A. for torture. There's Professor Paul Emmett (Tom Wilkinson), who shares a past with Adam Lang. There's Rick Ricardelli (Jon Bernthal), a former political rival of Adam's who may be behind his being charged. And there are suspicious circumstances that come to light about Mike McCarra's death.

The strength and weakness of The Ghost Writer is its sense of dread and menace. There are times the "clues" that something bad is going on are heavy-handed: Characters comment that something doesn't make sense or just seems wrong. At the same time, there seems to be a tangled web of deception and lies that has been in place for years that the Ghost is always scrambling to understand. The acting is very good (Brosnan has relatively screen time, but his presence is always there) and the setting -- a rainy, isolated island -- works well to reinforce the Ghost's sense of being trapped and disconnected. The Ghost Writer is a clever exercise in justified paranoia.

Overall grade: B+
Reviewed by James Lynch

No comments: