The Ghost Writer (2010)

Ewan McGregor in The Ghost Writer (2010)

The Ghost Writer is a tense, understated thriller, eschewing violence for political intrigue. Director Roman Polanski channels his classic noir Chinatown, with Ewan McGregor’s ghost writer standing in for Jack Nicholson’s private detective, with the corruption here inspired by Tony Blair rather than California’s seedy underbelly. There’s also an inversion of Polanski’s “predicament” in Pierce Brosnan’s ex-PM confined to America to avoid the reach of the International Criminal Court.

The visuals are distinct from Chinatown’s desert tones. Here the palette is dominated by blacks and greys; grey storm clouds above a grey house overlooking a grey beach. Screenwriter Robert Harris originally intended to collaborate with Polanski on a tale of ancient Rome, and that aesthetic has carried over with Brosnan’s manor evoking weathered ruins.

The narrative is straightforward, not sensational. Unlike most thrillers, it has a ring of authenticity, largely avoiding schlocky plot twists for a trail of clues leading to a conclusion that feels inevitable – and plausible – rather than contrived. The film ends with its best scene, a grimly memorable image, right after its worst, a clunky denouement that sacrifices McGregor’s character development alongside some sub-Da Vinci Code nonsense. It’s a minor misstep in an otherwise tightly constructed thriller.

3.5 stars

7 thoughts on “The Ghost Writer (2010)

    • I mean, it’s basically a stock standard thriller that’s notable for avoiding the silliness endemic in the genre, but Polanski’s direction ensures that it’s a lot better than you would think from that description. I might be overrating it because I love thrillers, but it’s visually impressive if nothing else.

  1. Though it does take its good time a little too much for my own liking, I have to say that when Polanski delivered on the final twists and turns, they were done effectively. Good review.

    • I actually liked how downbeat the first act was; it didn’t seem in any hurry to introduce sinister elements while it was establishing character and setting, and I liked that. I think horror and thrillers are neat in the way that they can depict very little happening but maintain attention because you know something wrong is rumbling under the surface.

  2. I liked this one.. I saw it ages ago, or at least it feels like that, but I still remember the frustration in the end.. Plus, I loved all the paintings and the design of the beach house.. so much deco porn!

    • Yeah, the set design is probably the best thing about this movie! It’s gorgeous as well as perfectly suiting the film’s themes.

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