After the first half hour to hour so of "The Ghost Writer," I wrote it off. I had already figured out what the film's major twist was, and I thought the film was going to be systematic. The beginning is the weakest portion of the film, I believe. A retelling of every synopsis I've read: Ewan McGregor plays a ghostwriter who apparently is renowned in his craft (though it's pretty hard to see how that could be). His agent Rick Ricardelli (Jon Bernthal) courts him into putting in time for Adam Lang (Pierce Brosnan), who needs his memoirs transcribed by someone new, as the "predecessor" (as McGregor likes to say so much in the film) washed up on a beach with high alcohol levels and his car left on a ferry in the film's boring yet "eventually disturbing" (as a writer in Sight and Sound noted about "Shutter Island") first shot (which is matched by a last shot that is more "powerful"). Another reason the beginning is a little poor is Timothy Hutton's line-stepping work as Sidney Kroll and the British jokes told by Jim Belushi in this scene.
And McGregor takes the job. This means having to read through the already transcribed memoirs of Lang (which he thinks are, as my friend said, "badly written"), jazzing them up a little bit (by adding questions "the people want to know," a huge cliche), sleeping in a horrible room at a nearby completely vacant motel, etc. He also gets a "window into the household" (like people I believe said of James McAvoy in "The Last Station") of a prime minister now deeply cooked on his handing over of terrorists for waterboarding. (The film makes obvious but closeted jabs at the Bush Administration, which are only made clear by the appearance of Condeleeza Rice and the mention of a "vice president," which is a direct hit on Dick Cheney. This whole "political satire" is definitely not my thing.)
As Ebert said in his review, it's engaging to see someone "get involved in something they shouldn't." Here, McGregor tries to figure out why Lang got into politics, as it would be at first simply a good opener for the book, but then because he thinks Lang is trying to keep his past burrowed away from the public. After he is forced into the ghost writer's room from before (with the obvious MacGuffin in place of all of his stuff still being there), he gets photographs and other things that further make things crazy. He also finds that it would be preposterous that the "other" ghostwriter's body went as far as it did, and that the only witness is now in a coma. That's all I'll say, but from about this point on, when McGregor goes from ghostwriter to "investigative reporter" (as he calls it), when he "gets involved in something he shouldn't," the film gets going. The ending and some of the scenes preceding are staggering.
I liked Brosnan in this film. I would think it could be called a maturation from the Bond films, as he plays more of a "complex character" (as Deborah Lipp would probably agree). I guess McGregor's work as a straight man/witty and naive ghostwriter is pretty good. Everyone likes to hate on him, but I think it connects the dots pretty well. Olivia Williams as Adam's wife Ruth is I guess decent. Her actions in this film are important to watch. And here everyone expects me to make a big comment about Roman Polanski. Well, you all liked "The Pianist" (which was made under the same conditions) too, didn't you? I think, as Ebert and others said, Polanski works the "thriller dynamics" pretty well, channeling perhaps the recent Woody Allen thrillers. With "The Ghost Writer," he doesn't reach the heights of "Match Point," as it takes him a bit long to really start the film, but he does some magic late in the game, to provoke and amaze the audience. B+