Who’s In It: Ewan McGregor, Pierce Brosnan, Olivia Williams, Kim Cattrall, Jon Bernthal, Timothy Hutton, Tom Wilkinson, James Belushi, Eli Wallach
The Basics: A professional ghost writer (Ewan McGregor) is hired to finish the memoirs of former British Prime Minister Adam Lang (Pierce Brosnan) when the book’s original “ghost” is found soundly dead off the shores of Cape Cod, where the disgraced politician has hidden away from the public eye. As the new writer becomes increasingly embroiled in the daily drama of Lang and his icy wife Ruth (Olivia Williams), a media circus erupts when Lang is targeted by a war crimes investigation for exporting suspected terrorists off to Guantanamo during his time in office. Under pressure from his publisher, his subject, and the nagging feeling that something seedy is simmering below the surface, the “ghost” stumbles upon a conspiracy that not only jeopardizes his life, but most certainly ensures that he won’t be getting a letter of recommendation from his employers.
What’s The Deal: Roman Polanski’s adaptation of the Robert Harris novel The Ghost is a taut thriller that combines moody atmospherics, (mostly) fantastic performances, and a splendidly palpable sense of dread that permeates the entire film. From the opening sequence on a New England ferry boat to the cleverly staged final scene on the streets of cosmopolitan London, Polanski steadily builds tension but never lets the pulse-quickening pace slow. At once a throwback to the political thrillers of the 1970s and a thinly veiled fictionalization of post-9/11 international politics (namely, the policies of former British PM Tony Blair), the finely executed Ghost Writer is constructed in textural layers designed to be delectably analyzed, even beyond the obvious (i.e. Polanski’s public legal troubles and self-imposed exile to Europe). Condolences go to those viewers who will avoid The Ghost Writer because of its director’s controversial history, because they’ll be missing one of the best films of the year.
Goodbye, Miss Cross. Hello, Oscar? Olivia Williams is probably still best known as the teacher Jason Schwartzman and Bill Murray fought over in Rushmore, but her turn as Ruth Lang is ferocious enough to shove the memory of Miss Cross into the backlogs of Hollywood’s collective memory. Intelligent, acerbic, and seductive, Williams’s Ruth is a forceful contemporary femme fatale, alternately purring at and sizing up Ewan McGregor’s unsuspecting writer-turned-private-dick. This is the kind of performance that would have given Mo'Nique a run for her money had The Ghost Writer come out in 2009.
More Kudos For: Cinematographer Pawel Edelman, whose photography and camera work make The Ghost Writer come alive subliminally and, more impressively, make the film’s German filming locations look believably like the eastern seaboard of the United States. High marks also go to composer Alexandre Desplat, whose vintage-feeling score crawls beneath your skin and infuses the film with dramatic impulse from the get-go.
Who Rocks The Weirdest AmeriBrit Accent Of All Time: Kim Cattrall. It’s hard to hate on anyone associated with the classic ‘80s motion picture Mannequin, but Cattrall’s horrid accent must be addressed. She plays Pierce Brosnan’s ostensibly U.S. born personal assistant/mistress/concubine, so the accent that spills awkwardly from her lips might be her attempt at mashing together a British and an American accent. No matter the reasoning, it's pretty much unforgivable.
How It Could Have Turned Out Much, Much Differently: Before Ewan McGregor and Olivia Williams came onboard, their parts were to be played by Nicolas Cage and Tilda Swinton. Try to imagine that for a second. Yeah, I can’t either.