“Heart is what sells autobiographies,” insists the unnamed ghost writer (Ewan McGregor), protagonist of Roman Polański’s first feature film in 5 years. The setting: rainy London for an interview to finish the memoirs of former British Prime Minister Adam Lang (Pierce Brosnan).


Securing the job, the British writer is immediately whisked to an isolated waterfront mansion on an island off America’s eastern shore, where things get fishy after he discovers the suspicious circumstances surrounding his predecessor’s supposedly drunken drowning, together with new accusations of Lang’s involvement in the capture of suspected British-born terrorists for interrogation by the CIA.

Add Mrs Lang’s miserable demeanour to the fact that his every move is cunningly watched by the former PM’s personal assistant Amelia Bly (Kim Cattrall), and he blurts out the only thing he can muster over the phone to his over-eager American agent: “What have you gotten me into?”


Based on best-seller The Ghost by Robert Harris (who also worked on the screenplay for this film), a poetically suspenseful world, masterfully created by Polanski (The Pianist, Oliver Twist), is revealed that both grips and pulls you head first into a realm of conspiracies and cover-ups, with parallels drawn between Lang and another former Brit PM Tony Blair in building unabashedly comfortable relationships with the USA.

At 132 minutes in length, the movie tips the scales of what’s palatable, especially by modern short-attention-span audience standards, but unfolds in the most cautious and delectable manner possible, offering tiny slivers of revelation enough to ensure you’re kept in the loop, without really latching on to what’s really happening. I won’t hide it; this movie involves a fair bit of concentration and thinking to fully comprehend.

Despite the big-name line up though, none of the actors produce unexpectedly stunning performances, save one.

Sixth Sense’s Olivia Williams plays Ruth Lang, Adam’s strong-willed, wildly intelligent and manipulative wife. Without giving too much away, her role of someone initially thought of to be little importance to the story was brilliantly carried out, and her significance gradually became more apparent until it became clear her character is paramount to the movie.


Naturally then, her character and McGregor’s grace the screen most, while Brosnan’s and Cattrall’s gallivant around New York to secure the States’ support for Lang.

Contributing to the film’s dark and eerie nature is beautiful music by Oscar-nominated composer Alexandre Desplat, whose resume includes such films as Syriana, The Queen, The Curious Case of Benjamin Button and Fantastic Mr Fox. There is nary a moment where Desplat’s haunting melodies don’t creep up your back, inducing short but impacting moments of fear.

However, all the mystery and suspicion is simply left at that. Save a couple of nail-biting twists (including one where the writer is followed from the house of Lang’s academic acquaintance to a ferry crossing), it never feels like anyone is in any real danger, nor is there much sense that any conspiracy-revealing consequences are about to descend unceremoniously on the unlucky bloke who poked his nose in the wrong person’s book shelf (literally). In fact, the whole thing almost strikes you as paranoia on the characters’ part.

What we have here, then, is simply an elegantly crafted story with twists, turns and an unexpected ‘the butler did it’ kind of ending. It doesn’t quite matter that it isn’t the scariest thriller in the world, does it? And they say movies these days don’t focus on plot.

Title: The Ghost Writer
Opens: May 20
Duration: 132 minutes
Language: English
Rating: ★★★★☆
Genre: Drama, Mystery, Thriller
Director: Roman Polański 
Cast: Ewan McGregor, Pierce Brosnan, Kim Cattrall