The Ghost Writer (film)

The Ghost Writer

US film poster
Directed by Roman Polanski
Produced by Roman Polanski
Robert Benmussa
Alain Sarde
Screenplay by Robert Harris
Roman Polanski
Based on The Ghost
by Robert Harris
Starring Ewan McGregor
Pierce Brosnan
Kim Cattrall
Olivia Williams
Tom Wilkinson
Timothy Hutton
Jon Bernthal
Tim Preece
Robert Pugh
David Rintoul
Eli Wallach
Music by Alexandre Desplat
Cinematography Paweł Edelman
Edited by Hervé de Luze
Distributed by Summit Entertainment (United States)
Optimum Releasing (United Kingdom)
Release dates
  • 12 February 2010 (2010-02-12) (Berlin Film Festival)
  • 19 March 2010 (2010-03-19) (United States)
  • 16 April 2010 (2010-04-16) (United Kingdom)
Running time
128 minutes
Country United Kingdom
Language English
Budget $45 million[1]
Box office $60,222,298[1]

The Ghost Writer (released as The Ghost in the United Kingdom and Ireland)[2] is a 2010 Franco-German-British political thriller film directed by Roman Polanski. The film is an adaptation of a Robert Harris novel, The Ghost, with the screenplay written by Polanski and Harris. It stars Ewan McGregor, Pierce Brosnan, Kim Cattrall and Olivia Williams.[3]

The film won numerous cinematic awards including Best Director for Polanski at the 60th Berlin International Film Festival and also at the 23rd European Film Awards in 2010.[4]


A British ghostwriter (Ewan McGregor) is hired by the publishing firm Rhinehart, Inc. to complete the autobiography of former Prime Minister Adam Lang (Pierce Brosnan). His predecessor and Lang's aide, Mike McAra, has recently died in an apparent drowning accident. The writer travels to Old Haven on Martha's Vineyard, Massachusetts, where Lang and his wife Ruth (Olivia Williams) are staying, along with Lang's personal assistant (and implied mistress), Amelia Bly (Kim Cattrall). Amelia forbids the writer from taking McAra's manuscript outside, emphasizing that it is a security risk.

Shortly after the writer's arrival, former Foreign Secretary Richard Rycart (Robert Pugh) accuses Lang of authorizing the illegal seizure of suspected terrorists and handing them over for torture by the CIA, a possible war crime. Lang faces prosecution by the International Criminal Court unless he stays in the U.S. (or one of the few other countries that does not recognise the court's jurisdiction). While Lang is in Washington, the writer finds items in McAra's room suggesting he might have stumbled across a dark secret. Among them is an envelope containing photographs and a phone number the writer discovers is Rycart's.

During a bike ride, the writer encounters an old man (Eli Wallach) who tells him the current couldn't have taken McAra's body from the ferry where he disappeared to the beach where it was discovered. He also reveals a neighbour saw flashlights on the beach the night McAra died, but later fell down the stairs and went into a coma. Later, Ruth admits to the writer Lang had never been very political, and until recently always took her advice. When he tells her the old man's story, she suddenly rushes out into the rainy night to "clear her head." Upon returning, she reveals Lang and McAra had argued the night before the latter's death.

The next morning, the writer takes the BMW X5[5] McAra used on his last journey. Unable to cancel the pre-programmed directions on the car's sat-nav, he decides to follow them. He arrives in Belmont at the home of Professor Paul Emmett (Tom Wilkinson). Emmett denies anything more than a cursory acquaintance with Lang, despite the writer showing him two pictures of the pair among photographs found in McAra's possessions, as well as another on the wall of Emmett's study. When the writer tells Emmett the sat-nav proves McAra visited him the night he died, Emmett denies meeting McAra and becomes evasive. The writer leaves, and is forced to elude a car pursuing him. He boards the ferry back to Martha's Vineyard, but when he sees the pursuit car drive aboard, he flees the boat at the last moment and checks into a small motel by the ferry dock.

With no one else to turn to, the writer redials Rycart's number, asking for help. While waiting, the writer does research on Emmett and links his think tank to a military contractor. He also finds leads connecting Emmett to the CIA. When Rycart arrives, he reveals McAra gave him documents linking Lang to so-called "torture flights," where terrorist suspects were placed on private jets oned by Emmett's company, to be tortured while airborne.

Rycart further claims that McAra found new evidence, which he wrote about in the "beginning" of the manuscript. The men cannot, however, find anything in the early pages. The writer discusses Emmett's relationship with Lang, while Rycart recounts how Lang's decisions as Prime Minister uniformly benefited U.S. interests. When the writer is summoned to accompany Lang on his return flight by private jet, he confronts Lang and accuses him of being a CIA agent recruited by Emmett. Lang derides his suggestions.

Upon leaving the aircraft, Lang is assassinated by a British anti-war protester, who is in turn shot by Lang's bodyguards. Nevertheless, the writer is asked to complete the book for posthumous publication, as in light of Lang's death it will be a certain bestseller. Amelia invites him to the book's launch party in London, where she unwittingly tells him the Americans tightened access to the book, as the "beginnings" contained evidence threatening national security. She also tells him Emmett, who is in attendance, was Ruth's tutor when she was a Fulbright scholar at Harvard.

The writer realizes the clues were hidden in the original manuscript in the opening words of each chapter, and discovers the message: "Lang's wife Ruth was recruited as a CIA agent by Professor Paul Emmett of Harvard University." He concludes Ruth shaped Lang's every political decision to benefit the U.S.A. under direction from the CIA.

The writer passes a note to Ruth telling his discovery. She unfolds the note, and is devastated. When she sees the writer raising a glass, she is kept from following him by Emmett and other assistants. As the writer leaves the party he attempts to take a taxi, without success. As he crosses the street off-camera, a car accelerates in his direction to an impending collision. As witnesses react in horror, the pages containing McAra's manuscript are blowing in the wind, leaving the writer's fate unconfirmed.


Non-fictional allusions

Pierce Brosnan plays the character of Adam Lang, who has echoes of former British Prime Minister Tony Blair. The character is linked to the 2003 invasion of Iraq, the war on terror and the special relationship with the United States. The author of the book on which the film is based, has said he was inspired at least in part by anger at Mr Blair's policies, and calls for him to face war crimes trials.[6]

Robert Pugh, who portrayed the British Foreign Secretary, Richard Rycart, and Mo Asumang, who played the US Secretary of State, both physically resemble their real-life counterparts, Robin Cook and Condoleezza Rice. Like the fictional Rycart, Cook had foreign policy differences with the British Prime Minister. The old man living on Martha's Vineyard is an allegorical representation of Robert McNamara.[7]


Polanski had originally teamed with Robert Harris for a film of Harris's novel Pompeii,[8] but the project was cancelled because of the looming actors' strike that autumn.[9][10]

Polanski and Harris then turned to Harris' current best seller, The Ghost. They co-wrote a script and in November 2007, just after the book's release, Polanski announced filming for autumn 2008.[11] In June 2008, Nicolas Cage, Pierce Brosnan, Tilda Swinton, and Kim Cattrall were announced as the stars.[12] Production was then postponed by a number of months, with Ewan McGregor and Olivia Williams replacing Cage and Swinton as a result.

The North Sea ferry MS SyltExpress, used as the Martha's Vineyard ferry in the film.

The film finally began production in February 2009 in Germany, at the Babelsberg Studios in Potsdam. Germany stood in for London and Martha's Vineyard due to Polanski's inability to legally travel to those places, as Polanski had fled the US in 1978 after pleading guilty to unlawful sex with a 13-year-old girl. The majority of exteriors, set on Martha's Vineyard, were shot on the island of Sylt in the North Sea, and on the ferry MS SyltExpress. The exterior set of the house where much of the film takes place, however, was built on the island of Usedom, in the Baltic Sea. Exteriors and interiors set at a publishing house in London were shot at Charlottenstrasse 47 in downtown Berlin (Mitte), while Strausberg Airport near Berlin stood in for the Vineyard airport.[13] A few brief exterior shots for driving scenes were shot by a second unit in Massachusetts, without Polanski or the actors.

On his way to the Zurich Film Festival, Polanski was arrested by Swiss police in September 2009 at the request of the U.S. and held for extradition on a 1978 arrest warrant. Due to Polanski's arrest, post-production was briefly put on hold, but he resumed and completed work from house arrest at his Swiss villa. He was unable to participate in the film's world premiere at the Berlinale festival on February 12, 2010.[14]


The film premièred at the 60th Berlin International Film Festival on 12 February 2010,[15] and was widely released throughout much of Europe during the following four weeks. It went on general release in the US on 19 March 2010 and in the UK on 16 April 2010.[16]


The film has received generally positive reviews from critics. Review aggregator Rotten Tomatoes reported that 83% of critics gave positive reviews based on a sample of 196 reviews with an average rating of 7.4/10.[17] Its consensus notes that, "While it may lack the revelatory punch of Polanski's finest films, Ghost Writer benefits from stylish direction, a tense screenplay, and a strong central performance from Ewan McGregor."[17] Another review aggregator, Metacritic, gave the film an average rating of 77% based on 35 reviews.[18] For Andrew Sarris the film "constitutes a miracle of artistic and psychological resilience."[19] Roger Ebert gave the film four stars and declared: "This movie is the work of a man who knows how to direct a thriller."[20]

Journalist/blogger William Bradley has dubbed it "one of the best films I've seen in recent years" in a review for The Huffington Post that dealt with the film's artistic and political dimensions.[21] The Guardian said: "Roman Polanski's deft take on Robert Harris's political thriller is the director's most purely enjoyable film for years."[22]

Writing for LAS Magazine, Theon Weber gave the film a 6.8/10 rating and called it "a thriller with topical ambitions; it takes place in a jittery, bomb-fearing Britain and America, often in airports or official buildings, where the weary rituals of security screenings refuse to let the characters or the audience relax."[23]

However, John Rentoul from the UK's The Independent, who describes himself as an "ultra Blairite with a slavish admiration for Tony", and John Rosenthal, from the conservative Pajamas Media, both denounced the film because it was made with financial support from the German government. Rentoul also launched a scathing attack on Polanski describing the winner of Berlin's Silver Bear as "propaganda" and a "Blair hating movie".[24] Still, what the critics did not explain was that although the production company, Elfte Babelsberg Film GmbH, received 3.5 million from the German state,[25] any major film production within Germany is entitled to apply for financial assistance from the German Federal Film Fund (DFFF). Since the assistance is considered a grant, there is no requirement that it be repaid.[26] As a result of this funding policy, numerous English-language films have been at least partially shot in Germany over the last two decades, among them The Bourne Supremacy, The Bourne Ultimatum, Aeon Flux, Valkyrie, The Pianist, The Grand Budapest Hotel, The Constant Gardener, Unknown, Inglourious Basterds, and Anonymous.


The movie has won numerous awards, particularly for Roman Polanski as director, Ewan McGregor in the lead role, and Olivia Williams as Adam Lang's wife.

See also


  1. 1 2 "The Ghost Writer (2010)". Box Office Mojo. Retrieved August 26, 2010.
  2. 6 April 2010: "Free Preview Screening the Ghost in Dublin" Retrieved 2012-01-30
  3. IMDb: The Ghost Writer main details Retrieved 2012-01-30
  4. Brooks, Xan (5 December 2010). "Roman Polanski film The Ghost Writer dominates European awards". The Guardian. Guardian Media Group. Retrieved 14 April 2014.
  5. 2009 BMW X5 xDrive30d [E70] in The Ghost Writer, Movie, 2010
  6. Barbara Plett (March 19, 2010). "How Realistic Is New Polanski Film The Ghost?". BBC News. Retrieved March 5, 2011.
  7. French, Philip (April 18, 2010). "The Ghost—Roman Polanski's Immaculately Crafted Adaptation of Robert Harris's Bestseller Is a Chilling and Sinister Study of Power". The Observer. London. Retrieved March 5, 2011. Oddly, as co-adaptors, Polanski and Harris have played down a character carefully signalled in the book. In the film, the 94-year-old Eli Wallach plays an elderly Vineyard resident who gives the ghost writer some vital information concerning the cove where the previous writer's corpse washed up. In the novel, he is clearly identified as the former secretary of state Robert McNamara by his rimless glasses and hairstyle, his statement about war crimes ("We could all have been charged with those. Maybe we should have been.") and a reference to a real event in 1972: "Hell, a guy tried to throw me off that damn ferry when I was still at the World Bank." This explains Harris's curious, ludic choice of the name McAra for the original ghost in the novel.
  8. Variety 1 February 2007: Polanski propels 'Pompeii' Retrieved 2012-01-30
  9. Rotten Tomatoes 12 September 2007: Roman Polanski Flees Pompeii Retrieved 2012-01-30
  10. Mr. Beaks (March 5, 2010). "Mr. Beaks Interrogates The Ghost Writer Novelist-Screenwriter Robert Harris!". Ain't It Cool News. Retrieved March 5, 2011.
  11. Siegel, Tatiana (November 7, 2007). "Roman Polanski returns with 'Ghost'". Variety.
  12. Fleming, Michael (June 25, 2008). "Cage, Brosnan see Polanski's 'Ghost'". Variety.
  13. Database (undated). "Filming Locations for The Ghost Writer (2010)". Internet Movie Database. Retrieved March 5, 2011.
  14. Verschuur, Paul; Pettersson, Edvard (September 28, 2009). "Polanski Arrested in Switzerland on 1978 U.S. Warrant (Correct)". Bloomberg. Retrieved March 5, 2011.
  15. Berlin Film Festival Program
  16. IMDb: Release dates for The Ghost Writer Retrieved 2012-01-30
  17. 1 2 "Ghost Writer Movie Reviews, Pictures". Rotten Tomatoes. IGN Entertainment. Retrieved February 21, 2010.
  18. "Ghost Writer, The (2010): Reviews". Metacritic. CNET Networks. Retrieved February 21, 2010.
  20. Ebert, Roger (February 24, 2010). "The Ghost Writer". Chicago Sun-Times. Retrieved March 5, 2011.
  21. Bradley, William (March 22, 2010). "The Ghost(s): Of Tony Blair, Roman Polanski, and A War on Terror". The Huffington Post. Retrieved March 5, 2011.
  22. Bradshaw, Peter (12 February 2010). "The Ghost Writer". The Guardian. Retrieved 14 April 2014.
  23. Weber, Theon (March 9, 2010). "The Ghost Writer". LAS Magazine. Retrieved March 5, 2011.
  24. Rentoul, John (May 26, 2010). "I Was Wrong About The Ghost". Independent Minds (blog via LiveJournal). Retrieved March 5, 2011.
  25. "List of grant approvals from the German Federal Film Fund (2009)" (PDF). Deutscher Filmförderfonds. Retrieved March 5, 2011.
  26. "German Federal Film Fund (DFFF)". Deutscher Filmförderfonds. Retrieved March 5, 2011.

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