Reel Matt

This blog started as my movie marathon — watching a movie a day for a whole year — and has continued as a place for me to write reviews about movies, TV, and various other items.



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The Ghost Writer

Film #466


A ghostwriter hired to complete the memoirs of a former British prime minister uncovers secrets that put his own life in jeopardy.

Year 3, Film #16

THE GOOD: The Ghost Writer is filled with mysteries and twists that you don’t see coming. You readily anticipate something major to happen at the end, especially given that the entire film is masked in ominous and foreboding music and cinematography, but there’s really no evidence that helps you reach the conclusion before it happens. It’s masterfully crafted in such a way that keeps you intrigued and engaged along the way while also feeding a certain level of apathy. This gets more into the little I disliked about the film, but there’s also a positive spin to it as well.

Both writing and acting, led by Ewan McGregor who plays the unnamed ghost writer and Pierce Brosnan who plays ex-British Prime Minister Adam Lang, have this duality to them. This duality of suspicion leads to the feelings of apathy I mentioned. The positive aspect to this apathy is that it helps lull you into this false sense of security. You begin to expect that nothing substantial will really happen and the big reveal that’s coming will turn out to be lackluster. By breeding this indifference towards the story and characters, it makes the ending that much more potent when all the pieces come together because you had been set up for something much less.

Going back to a strong positive, there’s also the simplicity to The Ghost Writer. There’s a large, overarching political aspect to this film that apparently is commentary on former Prime Minister Tony Blair and/or a commentary on the War on Terror in general, but I didn’t pay attention to that. Instead, I paid attention to the film as entertainment and saw a much simpler, quiet film. It all takes place on Martha’s Vineyard (which I visited a few weeks before seeing this film and therefore was overjoyed when I saw familiar landmarks) with a few exceptions (the opening scene in London, a brief detour to mainland Massachusetts) and there, mostly in Adam Lang’s house. I’ve mentioned before how I’m a fan of single-setting films and The Ghost Writer is another great example why. By taking place mostly in a single-setting, you can focus more of your attention on smaller details rather than having to worry about bigger-picture details like orienting yourself as to where you are and what this new place has to do with everything else. And having this ability to focus on small details is crucial to The Ghost Writer and comes into play with the big twist at the end.

THE BAD: While the apathy that comes from this film is positive in that doesn’t help get your hopes up for a big ending, it also does some damage too. While McGregor and Brosnan do a great job at playing their respective characters, there isn’t much to their characters that makes you care for them. They help move the story along and in a few cases (like when the writer, McGregor, is beat up) we do feel for them, but for the most part, they could be somebody else entirely and achieve the same goal. It’s not to say they’re horrible characters with no depth or development throughout the film, it’s just to say, they’re at a bare minimum with nothing to make them exceptional.

THE TAKEAWAY: The Ghost Writer may seem quiet and feel like not much is actually going on at times, but director Roman Polanski (of Chinatown fame, amongst others) uses this to his advantage to craft a thriller full of many surprises. The simplicity helps you focus on smaller clues, which, combined with decreased expectations, leads to a big reveal at the end that you can’t see coming.

THE RATING: 4 out of 5