Roman Polanski’s latest effort is based on Robert Harris’ controversial political thriller, The Ghost (British slang for “Ghostwriter”). The film opens ominously, with a BMW SUV seemingly abandoned on a wintertime ferry from Wood’s Hole, Massachusetts, to Martha’s Vineyard. Nearly as soon as the driver’s body washes up on the stormy beach, we learn through a series of reveals that the deceased was the Ghostwriter for the ex-British Prime Minister, played by former 007 Pierce Brosnan.
Martha’s Vineyard proves to be the perfect backdrop for the Prime Minister to compose his memoirs. Although a paradise in summer, wintertime on the island is cold, cloudy, dependant on a ferry schedule and full of eerily vacant hotels and shuttered restaurants. It’s the perfect place for a controversial political figure – the character is obviously based on Tony Blair – wishing to put distance between himself, his detractors and the torture policies endorsed by the Bush administration.
Enter the ghostwriter’s replacement, played expertly by Ewan McGregor. In true thriller formula, the new ghost’s life is threatened nearly from the get-go, but to Polanski’s credit, it isn’t until halfway through the film that we really understand why. The mystery is revealed through a series of small clues and red herrings served up in equal portions.
WARNING – SPOILERS BELOW
While it’s difficult to resist the idea that the Prime Minister’s (Tony Blair’s) ascension to fame was a brilliantly contrived CIA plot to keep the UK under America’s political control, the believability quotient is kept reasonably in check until the film’s final two minutes, when the story careens needlessly off the track, ending up in an unexpected, fatalistic place that puts a damper on what had otherwise been a very satisfying thriller.