As a boy, the future Oscar winner survived the Holocaust hiding in a barn. Now, he is under house arrest in his Swiss chalet awaiting possible ex-tradition to Los Angeles to face sentencing on a 1977 conviction for the rape of a 13-year-old girl.
The maker of such brilliant exercises in fear and loathing as “Repulsion,” “Rosemary’s Baby,” “Chinatown” and “The Pianist,” Polanski is at it again with “The Ghost Writer,” a political intrigue which won’t win him any friends from the former Bush and Blair administrations.
Based on the Robert Harris novel, “The Ghost Writer,” it begins with a murder in the form of a body washed up on a beach in Martha’s Vineyard. It is that of the ghost writer of the autobiography of former British Prime Minister Adam Lang (a never-better Pierce Brosnan) who, with his prettyboy looks and devotion to George W., is a dead-ringer for Tony Blair. The new Ghost (Ewan McGregor) is basically made an offer he can’t refuse by his editor, publisher and agent and is off to the Lang hideaway in a perennially stormy Vineyard. The major appeal of the Ghost (his only apparent name) is his strange lack of history and family. However, he has “ghosted” before and shown evidence of wit, in that, his subject was a magician and its title was, “I Came, I Sawed, I Conquered.”
Sliding from one creepy revelation to the next, Polanski weaves his paranoid web as the seemingly uninvolved writer finds himself on a road littered with politically-incorrect links between the CIA torture and Lang. The Press is also unraveling the thread and before long, protesters are waving anti-Lang placards at the borders of his compound.
In addition, sexual shenanigans expose themselves inside the hideaway. Besides stumbling upon written clues and photos, the Ghost is awakened one night by a naked Mrs. Lang (Olivia Williams) slipping between his sheets. And her hubbie is inappropriately intimate with his personal live-in secretary, Amelia Bly (“Sex and the City’s” Kim Cattrall with an English accent).
Magical filmmaker that he is, Polanski crafts his conspiratorial creepshow with page-turning precision. Still, unlike prior classics, his heart and head seem distracted and distant.