Roman Polanski’s languid The Ghost Writer (2010) is a political intrigue and melodrama about a retired British prime minister, political rivalries, the CIA, and a mysterious murder. Nothing in the film sees real—especially not the way people speak to and treat one another. Not much is at stake here—sure the CIA may or may not be controlling the British government, certain British politicians may or not be conniving to suppress terrorism or promote waterboarding or otherwise foment corruption in government. The entire film seems generic, and nothing points this out more than the casting of Pierce Brosnan in the retired prime minister’s role.
The idea of the ghostwriter is the most intriguing aspect of this film. The ghostwriter for all practical purposes doesn’t exist—he’s hired to edit and rewrite and reshape the prime minister’s memoir, which by all accounts is deadly dull. He takes no stand and has no voice of his own. His job is to make the manuscript coherent and marketable (what political memoirs have ever been marketable?), and all within a short time span. The ghost writer, played by Ewan McGregor, convinces himself that the death by drowning of his predecessor was not a suicide but a murder, and he devotes himself to determining who the killers and what the motives were. Instead of making palatable the story the prime minister wrote, the ghost writer then sets out to discover the truth, which apparently no one wants told. The development of the ghostwriter’s moral identity and conscience, when in the beginning he didn’t have either, is the real interest of the film. But it's not sufficient. I overlooked until the closing credits that this is a Roman Polanski film, and that it was much praised when it was released. Too bad. It’s not one of his best.