The Ghost Writer knows how to set the mood – and it’s anything but romantic.
Set in a bunker-like beach house on an island off the East Coast, The Ghost Writer follows an author (Ewan McGregor) who has been assigned to spruce up the autobiography of former English prime minister Adam Lang (Pierce Brosnan). Lang has holed up in the house after his longtime friend – and the former ghostwriter of his book – mysteriously washed up dead on shore.
That body is one of the movie’s first haunting images, and many more follow. Suspicion and insinuation seep from nearly every frame. There are the Fatal Incident signs that are posted on the ferries and beaches – they seem to hover over McGregor as he wanders around – and the empty suits that still hang in the closet when McGregor moves into the dead man’s room. Then there is Kim Cattrall, as Lang’s assistant, swinging her way up the beach house’s stairs while McGregor follows her, telling him, “No distractions.”
Cattrall, McGregor and Brosnan are all strong, but the best performance comes from Olivia Williams, who plays Lang’s politically savvy wife. When Lang is suddenly linked with the torture of terror suspects and his in-the-works autobiography becomes a document of international scrutiny, Williams’ wife subtly, almost imperceptibly, takes the reins. She’s the woman behind the man and possibly much, much more.
Not everything clicks when all is revealed, yet director Roman Polanski offers so many clever Hitchcockian touches that you won’t much care. You’re in the movie’s grip right through the grim, fatalistic finale, which echoes the iconic climax of Polanski’s own Chinatown. The Ghost Writer doesn’t reach that classic’s level of existential dismay, yet what it lacks in depth the film makes up for in precise cinematic style.