The Ghost Writer starts of with a memorable opening scene. Not because of its grandeur but rather the ominous tone it sets that will be present in the remainder of the movie. A ferry docks in the harbor and all the cars on it are getting off one by one. One big luxurious BMW is left standing. No driver anywhere in sight. The car gets towed from the ferry, the police arrive to contact the owner. Next thing we see is the body of a man washed up on shore. It doesn’t take long to put one and one together though the official report is that it’s probably suicide.
We know better.
Turns out he was a ghost writer for British ex-prime minister Adam Lang (Brosnan) who early on in the movie becomes the subject of accusations of war crimes when he supposedly aided the CIA by handing them suspect of terrorism. One of whom died in their custody.
He is working on his autobiography and of course needs a new ’ghost’, which is the task Ewan McGregor takes upon him, not knowing what dangers there are.
Obviously inspired on Tony Blair and his relationship with George W. Bush The Ghost Writer puts one foot in reality, even having a somewhat shady corporation being clearly inspired by Halliburton. By keeping everything subtle and by not falling in the traps of having unnecessary action scenes the movie keeps you on the edge of your seat. You think you have an idea of what’s going on, but you can’t be sure because the puzzle doesn’t seem to fit. Veteran director Roman Polanski plays with the audience like Alfred Hitchcock liked to do. He understands that the image of car following you from a distance is more intriguing than a fist fight. The fear and unsettling feeling of possibly something being there or not knowing who you can and can not trust is bigger than when the cards are on the table.
Supporting the atmosphere of the script is the location. Set on a remote island in the winter with constant gray clouds and rain the surroundings help create a creepy atmosphere. The rare moments when the plot is rather slow paced and not really involving, the surroundings fill in the gap.
The Ghost Writer is the kind of thriller that isn’t produced much anymore, other than some weak Direct-To-Video efforts by B-directors. Movies like this need a skilled hand to create that kind of unnerving feeling with the viewer, to put him on the edge of his seat craving for the outcome. Polanski possesses that skill, and puts it on a display here.