Consider the quandary of Roman Polanski. Not only does he have the might of the US legal system bearing down upon him (he fled from justice in 1978). But now, thanks to The Ghost Writer, those who once defended his filmmaking genius will also be left truly and properly perplexed. For the film, an adaptation of a Robert Harris novel that pillories Tony Blair, here called Adam Lang and played by Pierce Brosnan, is just slightly short of disastrous. Lang, when we first meet him, is holed up in his publisher's mansion on Martha's Vineyard while attempting to write his autobiography with an unnamed Cockney writer played by Ewan McGregor. He is also being publicly pursued by a UN war crimes tribunal for his role in extraordinary rendition. He is hated by wife Ruth (Olivia Williams, doing a very angry Cherie Blair), and is somehow tangled up with the dark forces of the CIA. Which all would have made for an original thriller if Polanski (he of Rosemary's Baby, Chinatown and The Pianist) had been in any directorial mode other than autopilot. For here we get deadening line readings ("And that's what sells autobiographies. Heart!" announces a particularly weak McGregor), lazy narrative devices (major plot points revealed by a Google search), and a truly uninspired third-act twist that will be familiar to anyone who's seen Sea of Love or Presumed Innocent. In short, this is not the work of a maestro. Not even a mini maestro.
* Kevin Maher