The Ghost Writer Review

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The Ghost Writer is a 2010 political thriller film. It is adapted from the novel, The Ghost by Robert Harris. Directed by Roman Polanski, the screenplay was written by him and Harris.


 After the death of a ghost writer who was writing the memoirs of former British Prime Minister Adam Lang (played by Peirce Brosnan), Ewan Magregor’s anonymous ghostwriter agrees to complete the manuscript.

The ghostwriter flies out to Lang’s beachfront mansion to work on the project behind high security in the middle of winter. Unfortunately, the day he arrives, Lang is accused of war crimes. Lang faces prosecution by the International Criminal Court, and all of his staff are subject to reporters and protesters swarming to the island mansion. Amongst all of this, the ghostwriter continues his work, uncovering along the way that perhaps his predecessor’s death was not as straight forward as he was thought to believe.


The movie has a great, classic thriller feel, like the recent The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo. However, it also has unnecessary, old-fashioned sentiments.

The ambience is fantastic: a large office window shows a wintery ocean-front setting which depicts the natural and humanistic chaos outside the steely confines of a mansion. Such unsettling imagry and sound reminds of another great classic thriller Shutter Island.

The performances are unfortunately uneven; Kim Cattral is a wispy female, not unlike Mia Farrow’s performance in Rosemary’s Baby, and has an air of film Noir about her, such as Evelyn in Chinatown. Dressed in white, she is contrasted ( although her prowess is subverted) with the dark hued, femme fatal Ruth Lang (played by Olivia Williams), the backbone of her husband, the Prime Minister. Olivia delivers a surprisingly unconvincing performance in a scene of supposed vulnerability. Perhaps Roman has a perception of women in film that resonates.

There are also some choice camera angles throughout the movie, and the lens lingers too long, almost making sure that the viewer captures every little nuance the actor is giving, which is completely unnecessary, and patronises the actor’s performance. From research in comparison with the book, it is surprising that Polanski chose to actually downplay some scenes that would have played very cinematically.

The score is almost darkly comic. I would have preferred a much more intimidating, straight thriller score, given the context, in the mold of other recent films Shutter Island and Inception which both used amazing, menacing, bombastic scores which had as much presence and personality as any other actor on screen.

As mentioned above, it is surprising how the film bears away from use of technology. When The Ghost Writer tries to use a computer with a USB key, all hell breaks lose. Instead, The Ghost Writer must engage in the practical, textural feel of the original manuscript. Characters labor over it, feel it with their fingers and almost enjoy the physical pleasure of touching it. Such use of manuscript-texture reminds me of The Ninth Gate and the supernatural powers that are within the pages of a book.

As The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo demonstrated, research through means of computer can be just as textile, whilst also conveying the sense of a ghostly observer, someone who is dabbling with people’s lives from another sphere of existence. Also, the use of computer data can just be just as hard to trace and hold as a ghost. Cinematic research montages can be delivered with both mediums, but layers of a computer screen imposed over the researcher is far more cinematic than following text on a manuscript. In this sense it may be unfair to call this film old fashioned, but it is warranted here.

There are great allegories of ghosts here; Ewan’s unnamed character is haunted by his predecessor, finding his spirit within the pages of his manuscript, his clothes and the furniture in his room. Ewan prefers spirits rather than wine, and, whilst being an anonymous ghostwriter, holds a certain amount of power over the very public figures. The theme of the Ghost within the Machine could have given another metaphor if technology was not presented in such a phobic way.

The film has a strange dark comic humour; delivered in Ewan’s performance, the score, filing of scenes and some script choices. Ewan’s performance aside, I would have preferred a much more straight approach given the success of the recent, and superior above-mentioned thrillers.


The Ghost Writer is unfortunately, disappointingly and irritatingly flawed in the sense that it is a good movie, a great visual experience but it could have been so much more. There are many editing and acting choices that take away from the film, in both logic and quality. Like the superior The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, however, this movie has compelled me to read the novel and think of what may have been.

3 pages out of 5

Check out the film at IMDB check out the trailer, and see what Margaret and David (and Ewan) have to say.

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Luke McWilliams August 2010




~ by McW on September 3, 2010.

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