Ghost in the Machine


“We all gotta eat.” — Obi-Wan Kenobi

The Ghost Writer
Dir. Roman Polanski
Mount Pearl Shopping Centre

Former British Prime Minister Adam Lang (Pierce Brosnan) – described early on as less a politician than a political craze—is holed up in an artfully sterile Cape Cod mansion, penning his hotly anticipated memoir. Enter the ghost writer (Ewan McGregor, playing an unnamed character), flown in from London to replace the former writer, a long-time aide of Lang’s who drowned in a tragic accident a mere weeks before.

But Lang is a terse, impatient subject. Of course, his camp is also weathering an accusation of war crimes: it seems, during his last term, that Lang ordered the illegal kidnapping and torture of four terrorism suspects. For any typical middlebrow thriller, this would be fairly ambitious territory—after all, Lang is a barely veiled portrait of Tony Blair, and the film doesn’t shy from the ambiguous morality of a post-9/11 political landscape. But director Roman Polanski’s usual themes—the terror of the domestic, or the numbing certainty of being watched—are neutered. They’re taken as givens.

From the first, the writer is hesitant to take this job, persuaded only by money and maintaining a “professional distance” from his subject. So when the avowedly apolitical writer digs into the mysteries surrounding Lang, it feels somewhat unearned—abrupt, even. But the film’s third act redeems itself, erases much of the confusion and wraps up with satisfyingly macabre flair.

To its credit, the film maintains an ominous happenstance—an abandoned car on a ferry, an unexplained mugging, the childlike cattiness of Lang’s intellectually frustrated wife (Olivia Williams), or the stringent security surrounding the only copy of the manuscript. The writer senses that something is rotten in the state of Massachusetts.

The careful, moody visuals cut through a dizzy plot and uneven pacing to craft a sense of political intrigue that manages to be both global and strangely esoteric; while it’s hardly his greatest work, it’s easily a distant cousin. Call it Chinatown with more passport checks.

Attending the book’s launch, the ghost writer admits he hasn’t been to many of them. “It’s a bit like having the mistress at the wedding,” he says. Or perhaps, having the filmmaker’s reputation outperform the film.

Let’s all pity the actors making routine publicity stops for The Ghost Writer, for as soon as director Roman Polanski is mentioned, the interview screeches to a self-conscious halt. But leave the scandal at the door: it’s one of the tamer films in his notoriously dark repertoire.

One comment

“Forest, Oh Forest, Protect Me” by Steve Haley

“Dark and sometimes strange songs that tell of the woods, witches, winged creatures, wars, dreams and ghosts.”

5 May 2011

  1. jennifer · May 5, 2011

    I dunno – I’m avoiding this one because of the scandal. Rape, wasn’t it? Of a teenager or something like that…