Review in a Hurry: Yep, Roman Polanski's still got it. With dry humor and expertly timed suspense, the director throws Ewan McGregor into a conspiracy theory plot involving a Tony Blair-like politician (Pierce Brosnan) whose memoirs provide the focal point of an investigation into serious war crimes. Similarly plotted recent movies, like, say, Edge of Darkness, can only dream of being this good.
The Bigger Picture: Rather cleverly, and appropriately, the movie never actually names McGregor's character, though you may not notice until seeing that he's billed in the credits only as "The Ghost Writer."
He's apparently one of the best at what he does, turning celebrities' own words into readable prose for autobiographies, so it's no surprise when he lands the high-paying opportunity to write the memoirs of former British Prime Minister Adam Lang (Brosnan). The only hitch is that he has to temporarily move in with Lang, who's staying at an ultra-modern beach compound on an island somewhere of the American east coast.
Plus there's the small issue of the previous ghost writer having died under mysterious circumstances. And the fact that no sooner has the new guy taken the job, than it is announced that the Hague Court is trying Lang for war crimes (rendition, torture, the whole Abu Ghraib-type deal). As the United States doesn't recognize the charges, Lang is safe there, but will now be living in exile...something Polanski himself knows a great deal about.
He knows you know it, too, which is why it's something of a red herring. While his own experiences evading prosecution overseas may have informed the way he directed the actors, the story isn't really about that at all. It's a bit of a political satire, and a whole lot of ticking-clock mystery involving a reluctant protagonist who doesn't want to be any sort of investigator...but must become one when he realizes his own life is at stake.
To discuss the plot any further would be to rob you of the joys of watching it gradually unfold at just the right pace, so we won't.
The 180—a Second Opinion: Did there really have to be an evil corporation named "Hatherton"? It's not as awfully on-the-nose as District 13: Ultimatum's "Harriburton," but still...in a movie that is otherwise charmingly subtle, it comes off like a loud fart at a poker game.
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