Not Polanski’s finest two hours
The Ghost Writer
I doubt the irony escaped Polanski. In this rather mediocre adaptation of Robert Harris’ book The Ghost, ex-British Prime Minister Adam Lang is holed up in his publisher’s holiday home on the east coast of America, supposedly completing his memoirs. As he is suddenly accused of war crimes and threatened with a trial before the International Criminal Court, he has the option to stay in the US, (which does not recognise the jurisdiction of the ICC, and cannot therefore be obliged to extradite him). One can’t ignore the shades of Polanski’s own infamous predicament, whereby he is unable to visit either Britain or the US because of an alleged sex-crime decades ago.
However, apart from this tenuous comparison, there is nothing about The Ghost Writer that particularly suggests Polanski’s hand in it, nor why on earth he would have been interested in the first place. I read the novel when it first published, and though it’s enjoyable enough, it certainly doesn’t evoke the same sense of “this would make a good movie!” that I felt when reading The Da Vinci Code… (And look what happened there…)
Even the stars in it aren’t shining very brightly. Ewan McGregor is ordinary (perhaps appropriate for a character whose name we never learn? something of a “ghost” in himself, with absolutely no back story or 3rd dimension) and Pierce Brosnan almost manages to have fun with his role as the beleaguered PM, but not quite. Granted, it’s nice to see “Samantha” from the now ruined Sex and the City franchise steering her career onto a different path. But only Olivia Williams gives the film any real depth, in a terrific rendition of a Cherie Blair/Hillary Clinton ex-First Lady whose sarcasm knows no propriety, and whose motivations are complex.
The story is engaging enough – a mysterious death brings McGregor’s ghost writer into Lang’s household, whereupon he starts investigating his predecessor’s demise. But the plot is a pretty by-numbers affair, and most of the time it’s the bleak, ominous landscape and stormy weather that steals the show. So if this is Polanski’s stab at a “Come back! All is forgiven!” reunion with audiences, he’s better off staying in Switzerland a wee while longer.