Movie Review – Ghost Writer, The (Mini Review)

Slick, well filmed thriller from Polanski, with a terrific slow-burn approach echoing a masterful Alfred Hitchcock, The Ghost Writer is yet another triumph from a visionary director. Or, it’s a terrible bore. Depends on your tolerance for vague, inexplicably convoluted twists and labyrinthine turns, none of which makes any sense until the final five minutes, I guess.


– Summary –

Director :  Roman Polanski
Year Of Release :   2010
Principal Cast : Ewan McGregor, Pierce Brosnan, Olivia Williams, Kim Cattrall, Timothy Hutton, Tom Wilkinson, Jon Bernthal, James Belushi, Robert Pugh, Eli Wallach.
Approx Running Time :  130 Minutes
Aspect Ratio :  2.40:1
Synopsis: When he’s hired by a publishing firm to complete the unfinished memoirs of a former British Prime Minister, a struggling ghost writer starts to uncover a more sinister plot behind the scenes of a seemingly disgraced political figure.
What we think :  Slick, well filmed thriller from Polanski, with a terrific slow-burn approach echoing a masterful Alfred Hitchcock, The Ghost Writer is yet another triumph from a visionary director. Or, it’s a terrible bore. Depends on your tolerance for vague, inexplicably convoluted twists and labyrinthine turns, none of which makes any sense until the final five minutes, I guess. Folks going into this expecting a real romp will be left disenchanted, although those seeking a more intellectual pummeling will do worse than watching this film.


Just Quickly

Ewan McGregor once more becomes a cinematic chameleon, in the role of an unnamed low-key ghost writer, who takes up the task of rewriting the memoirs of former British Prime Minister Adam Lang (Pierce Brosnan) under orders from his publishing house. Lang’s previous ghost writer met with a sad end, although there’s enough mystery about his apparent suicide to give the writer pause – perhaps not all is well in the Lang camp? The memoirs are kept in Lang’s private American residence under strict security, although the writer comes to believe a larger conspiracy, by former Lang allies, may be at play to discredit the former Prime Minister. As he digs into the past to get to the truth, the writer becomes involved with Lang’s wife Ruth (Olivia Williams), a former Harvard professor known to Lang (Tom Wilkinson) and a former British Foreign Secretary (Robert Pugh) – all with their own agendas and hidden motives. Director Polanski’s keen observant eye and ability to coax exciting performances from his cast is once more on display here – McGregor delivers a nuanced, oft confused portrayal of the writer, and while the film revolves around the character, his personality traits are somewhat inexplicable. Former Bond star Brosnan seethes with hidden anger, at either no longer being PM or the victim of a witch-hunt to drag his name into the mud, and while it’s easy to believe he could be a former PM, there’s still no way I could believe he’d ever actually be a PM. Olivia Williams does her best work as Ruth Lang, a distant and often cold wife who falls into the arms of the Writer because she requires solace, not for any romantic intention. And yet, at the heart of this mystery, a layer of deception keeps the audience at bay.

The Result

On the one hand, The Ghost Writer manages to cleverly channel those old British Hitchcock films, and one the other tries too hard to be too clever and blunders along like a bizarre pastiche of those old British Hitchcock films. Polanksi’s delivered quite the divisive film, in my opinion. Divisive because I wanted to enjoy and appreciate it, and found that I couldn’t….. quite. As much as I adore Polanski’s work – one of my favorites is his rendition of MacBeth…. possibly the greatest High School project film ever! – I found The Ghost Writer to by just a hair too convoluted to really enjoy it. The political underhanded maneuverings and the literary hinges of this film were clever in their own ways, yet they came together too incongrously for my liking. Polanski takes his time getting this film going, with long stretches of not a great deal happening except McGregor getting about around Martha’s Vineyard, where the majority of this film is set. The conspiracy angle of the film is laboriously woven into the script, co-authored by Polanksi and Robert Harris, from Harris’ novel of the same name. Whereas the literary form of a story like this might allow for protracted pauses and lengthy exposition, the film version seems to… drift, is that the right word?… towards its heightened conclusion instead of doing so with any purpose. The characters (especially Brosnan’s Lang) seem distractingly obtuse at times, as if they’re merely parodies of real people instead of actually being real people. As mentioned, McGregor does yet another solid job as the Writer, and although his character seems frustrated by something (we never discover what) and prone to fits of annoyance, we give him the benefit of being the Everyman character and just go with it. It’s nice to see Kim Cattrall breaking out of her Sex & The City caricature with something less slutty, and I always sit up straight whenever Eli Wallach appears in a film, even if it’s only a cameo. The Ghost Writer has all the hallmarks of a great thriller, only I didn’t find it terribly enthralling. Perhaps it was the lengthy running time, for which the story seemed stretched to accommodate, or perhaps it was the frustratingly distant characters involved, but I tended towards annoyance at having to wait for the mystery to unravel for so long. The final ten minutes or so of this film are vintage Polanski – the film is a gut-punch of impact right before the close, but the journey to get there is like drinking tepid tea.

What others are saying about The Ghost Writer:

Rory over at Above The Line enjoyed it: “As a political thriller Ghost Writer exudes tension while capitalizing on public curiosity and celebrity obsession that extends very often to the political arena.”

Sam at Duke & The Movies thought it was excellent: “Honestly “The Ghost Writer” is more suspenseful and interesting then most of the horror films out there.”

Cut The Crap cut the crap and gave it a top recommend: “Not quite sure this is for everyone and I could see how it might bore the Twihard generation into a deep, glitter-filled slumber, but it’s good stuff and it’s worth sticking with.”

Dan The Man felt much the same as I did: “Certainly not one of Polanski’s best, but not his worst, The Ghost Writer is still very tense, suspenseful, and well acted, even though it may not keep you on the edge of your seat the whole time.”

Will at Silver Emulsions felt a lot the same way I did: “I feel bad saying this, but like Lang in the film, Polanski assembles an OK movie, but I’m afraid he needed a ghost writer of his own to pull it all together into something much more.”

Nostra at My Film Views had a go at it: “What I really liked was that the movie manages to keep the suspense high all the way till the ending, without an actual constant threat.”

Stevee at Cinematic Paradox found more in it than we did: “I admit, political thrillers aren’t really my cup of tea. When I see those words, it’s like someone hit the snooze button in my brain. The Ghost Writer, on the flipside, gave my brain a good rattling. While it could be a bore for someone, I found this movie rich and intense, directed by a guy who knows how to make a good thriller.”

Disagree with what we think? Want to vent your views on us? Go to the comments section below and let rip!!

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12 thoughts on “Movie Review – Ghost Writer, The (Mini Review)

  1. …when I saw the trailer for this I was definitely intrigued but the fact it has fallen by the wayside probably tells me all I need to know. Thanks for the review Rodney.

  2. Polanski is so overrated, in my humblest of opinions. "Frantic" was a solid movie but other than being famous for not going to jail after "knowing" a 13-year-old, i can't say he's done a whole lot.

  3. hmm
    I doubt I will rush out to rent this one… Not really a subject that inspires me and  am not really a fan of the cast
    Nice review though my friend

  4. Good review Rod. This film definitely had its moment of pure tension but I think the story got a little too convoluted for me to even understand. However, things ended up working out for me in the end and that's all that really mattered to me. One hell of an ending, too. 

    1.  @DantheMan610 The ending – yes, it was a hell of a conclusion, wasn't it? But yeah, the convoluted plot and plodding twists the film tried to include just felt hammered into place with no subtlety at all…..

  5. I'm definitely in agreement with you here. When I started reading the "What We Think" section, I thought, "Oh wow, Rodney really liked this one!" and then you hit me with the "terrible bore" line and I got a big smile on my face. At my old job this movie was one of the universally hated films in the office, because everyone thought it would be great based on the cast (or in my case Polanski's involvement), but we were all taken for a ride. A boring ride.

    1.  @willsilver I'm sure this film appealed to some, though. I thought it would be a great little thriller, but it lacked the one thing a thriller needs in order to work: thrills. Aside from the ending (which is too little, too late by then) the film muddles along at quite the lethargic pace. Which kills it off quicker than a bullet.

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