The Ghost Writer

I just watched the Ghost Writer directed by Roman Polanski. Although you could say it’s drawn from contemporary events, it’s not exactly a true story. The basic plot is that a retired British Prime Minister Adam Lang (Pierce Brosnan) has hired a ghost writer to help him write his memoirs. The writer (Ewan McGregor) is actually the second person to hold that position, after the first is found washed up on the beach. As the “ghost” delves into the PMs background, he begins to find some disturbing secrets, secrets to do with the CIA, extraordinary rendition and possibly torture.

These last aspects of the ones that are closest to contemporary events of course. The PM is comparable to but not based on Tony Blair. Perhaps the least believable aspect of the movie are the protesters lining up to shake their angry fists at the PM, when the news gets out that he is potentially liable for war crimes. In terms of the plot, there is even an angry father who lost his son in the war. Frankly, I found this particularly unbelievable. It’s already the case that we know that extraordinary rendition (that is, when a person is kidnapped and transported by plane, usually to another location such as Morocco to be tortured) has occurred. Just last week, the Obama administration used the doctrine of “state secrets” to have a case dismissed against it that was brought by a person who had been locked up in Guantanamo for several years. And this week we saw that the administration was mulling the use of the same state secrets doctrine to protect itself against its determination to assassinate an American citizen on foreign soil. And yet we have not and I don’t think we will, see the same kinds of angry protesters lining the streets when Tony Blair drives by.

There’s several nice twists and turns in the movie, although you may be forgiven for figuring out the importance of one of the principles before the end. The very final scene — and I guess this is a spoiler — also didn’t quite work for me. If you’ve seen the film, you know what I mean, and I know they needed to have something dramatic at the end, but I couldn’t quite believe that “they” waited until the publication of the memoir to get the revenge on the ghost. If I were them, I’d be worried that the manuscript would contain some revelation or another. And I work very hard to prevent it being published in the first place, not wait until the launch party.

Still, it’s a nice movie, and they’re plenty of great actors in it. I particularly liked Mrs. Lang, played by Olivia Williams (the scheming mastermind in Dollhouse) and you’ll also get a short scene from Jim Belushi and a slightly longer one from Tom Wilkinson. Kim Cattrall also appears, although I found her English accent dodgy.

I don’t think the film quite worked for me in the end, though I have to give credit to the writer and director for addressing a topic as they say drawn from the headlines.

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