By Cole Smithey
It’s a big deal when Martin Scorsese and Roman Polanski both release mystery thrillers in the same week. Coincidentally, Shutter Island and The Ghost Writer are mutually set on islands and both begin with the arrival of a boat coming directly into the frame. Writer draws the short straw against Scorsese’s stronger effort, but that’s not to say Polanski has lost his touch. Co-written by Polanski with political journalist Robert Harris, upon whose novel the film is based, The Ghost Writer is full of plot holes but still entices.
Ewan McGregor is an English writer who takes an unpredictably dangerous job as a ghost writer on the memoirs of Adam Lang (Pierce Brosnan), a former British prime minister accused of war crimes. Upon the mysterious drowning death of his literary predecessor, McGregor sets up shop in his publisher’s American beachfront bunker-style home that Lang shares with his wife (Olivia Williams), and his mistress/assistant (Kim Cattrall).
Despite Harris’ personal experience as a journalist once close to Tony Blair, upon whom Lang is clearly modeled, the screenwriter fails to ignite sufficiently explosive plot points.
McGregor is never entirely believable as a journalist because of the sluggish way he approaches his work. He’s a protagonist who barely shifts attitudinal gears. Within the concrete and glass surfaces of the modern beach house that Polanski films with fetishistic enthusiasm, we quickly comprehend the kind of politically charged isolation that Lang, and later his ghostwriter, experience. Lang’s spacious office has a floor-to-ceiling window that offers a stunning view of a foggy beach that waits beyond the room’s hermetic seal.
Writer arrives at a moment when political thrillers and mysteries are about to flood cinemas. The film is an enjoyable if not satisfying experience. When the GPS system of the car that McGregor’s character drives becomes a dead-end suspense device, you know you’ve been had. The redeeming factor is that you’ve been had by Polanski.