In 1839, English author Edward Bulwer-Lytton coined the now famous phrase “the pen is mightier than the sword”, and such is the essence of Roman Polanski’s densely layered political masterpiece, The Ghost.
Based on the Robert Harris novel – and going by the much smarter title of The Ghost Writer outside Europe – the story focuses on an unnamed hack for hire (McGregor) who is recruited to rewrite the memoirs of a former British prime minister (Brosnan), who is little more than a thinly disguised caricature of Tony Blair (so close, in fact, that when the novel was released, Harris told The Guardian that he half expected a defamation writ to be delivered to his door). The memoirs were written by another ghost writer who turned up dead under mysterious circumstances shortly after the manuscript was completed. Through the course of interviews, research, and just plain happenstance, McGregor’s ghost begins to unravel a tangled web of deception and political intrigue that is wonderfully woven and totally engrossing. What unfolds, without giving away too much, is the discovery that the highest political office in the UK may have been compromised, but by whom, how, and to what end is part of the Ghost’s richly textured journey of discovery and fear.
Due to Polanski’s legal issues relating to his going on the lam to avoid prosecution for the 1977 sexual molestation of an underage girl in Los Angeles (for which he is being held in Switzerland pending extradition to the United States), Germany and the Baltic Sea region were used as stand-ins for London and Martha’s Vineyard in the US, the two locations where much of the film takes place. With a smart, snappy, dialogue-driven script cowritten by Harris and Polanski, the film is a stroke of genius on every level. From the magnificent acting subtleties by the entire cast, to the framing of shots and the haunting final scene, the film is a testament to Polanski’s talent and a fine addition to his canon.
Although the Oscars have recently been handed out, pencil this one in as one to watch when next year's ceremonies come round. Who knows, by then maybe his legal issues will be resolved and Polanski will finally be able to accept his statue in person.