Who's In It: Ewan McGregor, Pierce Brosnan, Kim Cattrall, Olivia Williams, Tom Wilkinson, Timothy Hutton, Eli Wallach
The Basics: A former British Prime Minister (Brosnan), living in self-imposed exile in America (he's more liked over here, thanks to all his help with torturing Iraqi prisoners during the war) hires a new ghost writer to help him finish his memoirs. This ghost (McGregor), a man with no name, family or friends, has a grim act to follow--the first writer was found dead on a frozen winter beach, his car abandoned in a ferry. Worse, this writer for hire is unwittingly stepping into a viper's nest of political backstabbing and possibly murderous behavior.
What's The Deal: Setting aside Roman Polanski's personal life for two hours of slow-burn political thriller is strangely easy this time around (but not entirely necessary: more on that in a second). The topical nature of the story--if you don't see Tony Blair then you don't keep up with the news--is as relevant as it can be in a time when the topic of U.S. sanctioned torture is still happening. But it could be about any political controversy and still be the same film. Polanski's a master of carefully drawing you in that cold gray place where everything is wrong, no one sleeps well and secrets are hidden from the hapless main character until it's too late for anyone to make it out with their lives or souls intact. He knows that making a lot of noise isn't the only way to agitate and create unease, so if creeping dread, grown-up style, is what you're looking for, he's got it for you.
Now Let's Say You Just Can't Set Aside His Personal Life: You're in luck because the movie doesn't always do it either. Polanski's no stranger to war thanks to his childhood spent running from the Nazis, and there's no getting around the way that the main character is displaced from his home due to ugliness of his own making, or that protesters outside his cold modern tomb of a home wave signs reading, "GUILTY!" It would be reductive to think of this movie as any kind of metaphor or personal statement, but Polanski isn't the kind of director who's willing to totally divorce his own worldview from the one you see through his camera.
Surprisingest Surprise: Well, aside from the mystery element of the film, one I didn't figure out until the movie figured it out for me, there's also the matter of Kim Cattrall. If you can forget that her British accent rivals only Kevin Costner's Robin Hood voice in wavering quality and commitment, it's still really cool to see her occasionally flash Samantha Face at Ewan McGregor, like she's withholding what he needs and half-heartedly trying to seduce him at the same time.
Know Him Only For His Crimes? Try Watching These To Catch Up: Knife in The Water, Repulsion, MacBeth, Rosemary's Baby, The Tenant, Chinatown, Tess, The Pianist.