Roman Polanski has always been good with mystery and suspense and The Ghost Writer is no exception, though it succeeds with the former more than the latter. The haunting atmosphere permeating the film complements the steady build of enigmata, and the acting (especially the scene-stealing Olivia Williams) and music by Alexandre Desplat is superb, though sadly the payoff is a little underwhelming. Following the clues is more entertaining than the actual solution, but just because we never lose interest in the process doesn’t mean we can’t be disappointed by the revelation.
A Ghost Writer (Ewan McGregor) is commissioned to continue writing the memoirs of former Prime Minister Adam Lang (Pierce Brosnan) when the previous biographer dies under puzzling circumstances. Forced to travel to Lang’s remote New England estate to work, the “Ghost” soon realizes the dangerous situation he’s stumbled into when the politician is publicly accused of war crimes. Further research into his past reveals a web of lies and deceit – and possibly a massive conspiracy connected with the mysterious death of his predecessor.
The Ghost Writer is a smart thriller with a notable cast, a perfect setting and a cleverly suspenseful score to match. As the story unfolds, the tension grows and the anticipation becomes engrossingly spine-tingling. A film like this needs an extravagantly gratifying finale, especially with a 128-minute runtime and so few answers until the very end. Unfortunately, the setup is so interesting and the mystery so baffling that when the big reveal is finally dumped on the audience, the impact is less than compelling. Uncommon for director Roman Polanski, the conclusion can’t live up to the nail-biting initial acts.
Perhaps the fault lies in the complex political environment. The film wastes no time at all setting up an uneasy feeling, a foreshadowing of intricate cover-ups, secret agendas and shocking conspiracies. Shady pasts, a high security prison-like, isolated compound (“This place is Shangri-La in reverse!”), the International Criminal Court’s war crime investigation, the media’s influences and the suspected murder of the Ghost’s predecessor all create a steadily building mystery that’s begging to be solved. Conspiracy seems unavoidable when politics are involved, and the film doesn’t mind the many finger-pointing references to real-life politicians. While the story is intriguing, the significance of the climax is lost amongst the failed attempts to build Lang into a believable monster, or to properly condemn his political actions or the embroilment of supporting characters. The effect of their troubled lives doesn’t morally burden the Ghost to the point that the audience will support his action or inaction. Likely the most prominent interest in The Ghost Writer will be for the controversy Polanski has gotten himself into in his personal life.
– The Massie Twins (GoneWithTheTwins.com)