A moody gothic political thriller riddled with hidden messages, about a dubious autobiography of a prominent public figure, The Ghost Writer concocts all kinds of clues about what may be a bit of a covert autobiography of the director/co-screenwriter/co-producer himself, Roman Polanski.
Currently under house arrest in a Swiss chalet pending extradition hearings for his decades old child rape case in the US, Polanski is reported to have continued directing this unfinished film from prison and then the chalet. And ultimately delivering to audiences a much more than meets the eye, vengeance or vindication take your pick, possibly get-even subliminal settling of old and new personal scores prison public relations satire, in sinister fictitious noir clothing.
Based on the novel The Ghost by British writer Robert Harris and filmed in Germany but filling in for the US, The Ghost Writer stars Ewan McGregor as just that, an aspiring scribe turned reluctant hack for hire. Nameless and known simply as The Ghost in this story, he agrees to complete the memoirs in progress of former UK Prime Minister Adam Lang (Pierce Brosnan), following the suspected suicide of the former ghost writer who does have a name – Mike McAra.
When The Ghost travels to the seclude island off the coast of Boston where Lang is currently residing between US lecture tours, he is soon caught up in a web of scandal and treachery. Which involves looming charges against the baffled Lang that as British Prime Minister, he colluded covertly with the CIA in illegally kidnapping and torturing suspected Al Qaeda terrorists. And when American protesters and reporters alike invade the island, while McAra’s death comes under increasing suspicion to The Ghost as an assassination, he switches up career moves intermittently between undercover hack and incidental sleuth.
And the plot thickens in all sorts of directions, some suspected of not quite entirely being connected to the story at hand. And it’s not just a suddenly blundering CIA that has no problem ferreting out suspected terrorists around the world, though they can’t seem to corner an awfully nerdy bookworm turned aspiring whistleblower. But rather a somewhat shrewd Polanski dropping distracting clues into the mix of a more personal nature. And that go way beyond the director’s teaser of pretending to make a movie on a US soil he dare not tread in real life, while chiding his former country in a kind of your crimes are bigger than mine sly scenario.
Most evident is the befuddled politician Lang, apparently stuck in the US for now where any attempt to leave a country that has no treaty with the Hague International Criminal Court, could bring him face to face with charges against him that may be pending. And if you don’t know where this questionably multi-layered story is going by now, audience espionage instincts are further heightened by the machinations of Lang’s ruthless Lady Macbeth spouse, Ruth (Olivia Williams).
An aggressive extreme seductress who is on the brink of nearly raping the gullible Ghost, when cornering him in his tub with an offer of towels to dry his tush, don’t do the trick. Wonder where Polanski got the idea that females with those irrepressibly cunning instincts of Eve, and no matter what age, can ruin a man’s life, alas.
The Ghost Writer was originally set to star Nicholas Cage instead of Ewan McGregor, while Pierce Brosnan’s puppet politician in peril possibly manipulated by all sorts of shrouded diabolical forces surrounding him and in a kind of reverse Bond-ing, seems to have the fingerprints of Polanski all over his character. And in a premeditated art imitating life larger fiction. Who knew.