Whatever on thinks about Roman Polanski the man certainly knows how to make compelling films. Since "Knife in the Water" (in 1962) he has been giving viewers psychological horror films that remain among the best of all time.
In "The Ghost Writer," Polanski shifts his aim at a more subtle horror -- the criminal activities of world leaders that hide behind their so-called patriotism. There are a lot of allusions in this film, some obvious (to Tony Blair, ex-Prime Minister of Great Britain) and some ironic (Adam Lang, the ex-PM, is sequestered in a hideaway that suggest Polanski's own recent incarceration in his Swiss Chalet while under house arrest in Switzerland). The thrust of the story is a memoir Lang is writing. The first ghostwriter he employs dies under mysterious circumstances (Suicide? Murder?) and another, unnamed writer (wonderfully played by Ewan McGregor) is employed to touch up the script.
Soon accusations surface regarding Lang's involvement with the CIA. The "Ghost" is now under fire to complete the heavy-handed ms. sooner than expected to capitalize on the recent events. The manuscript becomes the focal point of the film. The Ghost's room is ransacked. Lang's subordinates are not quite what they seem (even his wife falls under suspicion), and there are telling clues in the ms. and research of the former ghost that suggest Lang is guilty of the crimes he so vehemently denies.
Without revealing much more of the plot, the film follows the Ghost on his mission to find the truth. But the truth has a cost, and what is the truth anyway? Polanski seems to be asking these questions of himself in addition to the actions of the leaders who spin the truth for their own expediency.
Pierce Brosnan must be acknowledged as a fine choice for Lang. His performance is one of his best. Olivia Williams, Tom Wilkinson and 95-year old Eli Wallach, who is a treasure to behold, deliver other delicious acting turns. There are holes in the script (let the viewer find them) and some stilted performances (Kim Cattrall and Timothy Hutton don't seem to fit), but Polanski weaves his spider's web of deceit and betrayal like few directors can or could. This is an exercise in style and paranoia, and a pointed examination of the people who shape political events.