Perhaps one of the most mainstream films to be screened at MIFF this year, The Ghost Writer is an above-average thriller that is let down only by several strange writing decisions and the use of a clichéd plot device that borders on the ridiculous.
When the body of the ghost writer responsible for the memoirs of former British Prime Minister Adam Lang (Pierce Brosnan) washes up on the beach near Martha’s Vineyard, the most obvious conclusion is that a new ghost writer must be found. Lang’s book is likely to sell like hotcakes, you see, what with him being wanted for trial by a war crimes tribunal. Ewan McGregor’s character ‘The Ghost’ isn’t expecting to become involved in the intricacies of his new subject’s family life, however, nor the centre of a spy scandal.
There are elements of The Ghost Writer that work very well indeed, and then there are the areas in which director Roman Polanski appears to have dropped the ball. If catching an international spy were as simple as performing a Google search, for example, one imagines most of them would have been rounded up by now. Perhaps he doesn’t use the internet? There is really no excuse for treating audiences like we’re back in the days of The Net, and even the least tech-savvy audience will see this decisive moment in the plot as nothing more than lazy.
Additionally, when his lead character spends much of the film sporting a curiosity bordering on paranoia, the final scenes are simply impossible for the audience to accept. Given the importance of the information he has obtained and the likely outcome if anyone finds out that he knows, why would The Ghost behave in the way he has been scripted to? For a film to get to its final moments and take such an extraordinary misstep is really unfortunate.
The performances are fair, with Olivia Williams the standout as the spurned former Mrs Prime Minister. She manages strong, fragile, sexy and vicious, but also benefits from having the only other major female character played by Kim Cattrall. That Cattrall’s accent is so bad and no-one seems to have realised during production is astonishing, and one wonders why Polanski didn’t just throw in the towel and hire a British actress to play this British character. Brosnan is adequate and McGregor passable in the lead, although there is a strange lack of engagement with The Ghost and his plight.
It’s not terrible, and many sequences really work, encouraging one to consider how good the film might have been. As it is, however, The Ghost Writer could have done with some rewrites of its own.Rating: