Words by Matt Poe

“The Ghost Writer” (2010)

Netflix Star Rating: 2.5 out of 5

Poe’s Star Rating: 4 out of 5 (God, I love a good mystery)

A ghost writer is hired to finish the memoir of one of England’s most famous prime ministers, exposing dark secrets and putting his own life at risk.

Category: Suspense, Thriller, Drama, Mystery

Rated PG-13 for language, brief sexuality/nudity, some violence and a drug reference

Starring: Ewan McGregor, Pierce Brosnan and Olivia Williams.

Written by Robert Harris and Roman Polanski. Directed by Roman Polanski.

Ahhhh yeah, Poe’s Picks is back, baby! *massive guitar riff from an Avenged Sevenfold song.* So glad to be back at it writing this lovely blog for you, the moviegoer, and for the awesome publication that is The Burr. In case you didn’t know, I’m in Washington D.C. this semester and although I’m quite busy with this whole “running the country” thing, Poe’s Picks will still be making its regular appearances. I know, I know, thank me later by voting again for my reelection in 2020.

Speaking of politics, a lot is going on over in this part of the country, along with the rest of America (duh). To coincide with such, I figured we’d kick this round of Poe’s Picks off with a film that is politically-charged in nature. I know, you come here to escape the craziness of the outside world and here I am throwing more politics at you.

But do not despair! This movie is much more than just the boring parts of politics like facts and bipartisan cooperation (who needs that junk?). In Roman Polanski’s “The Ghost Writer,” we have the fun stuff: affairs, scandal, MURDER *insert maniacal laugh.* But I digress. Come along now, let’s play the game.

Ewan McGregor stars as a man known only as The Ghost. His job as a ghost writer is to write material for a book where he will not be credited as the author. Shitty gig, right? Anyway, The Ghost is hired to pen the memoir of former British Prime Minister Adam Lang (Pierce Brosnan), a polarizing figure who was known for his popularity rather than his actual politics. Sounds like someone familiar…

Pressured by his agent Rick (Jon Bernthal), and the rest of his publishing company, The Ghost reluctantly takes the work and is sent to America to finish the memoir. Notice how I said finish, rather than begin? That’s because Lang’s former ghost writer was found washed ashore just weeks before in what appeared to be a drowning accident. The Ghost, meanwhile, has other suspicions about the death of Lang’s former writer, but the major focus of the film comes later. From here, we get a modern take on the classical whodunit/cat-and-mouse thriller that has been a staple of cinema for decades, along with some great political drama.  

That being said, “The Ghost Writer” is anything but predictable. Polanski, a veteran of the thriller genre, works wonders here with a script and story that appears to trudge along ever-so slowly until BAM. He lulls the audience into this state throughout most of the first half of the film, but delivers a brilliant third act that leaves the proper questions answered and provides interpretation for many more.

In fact, the final act of the film is so well-constructed that it urges you to consider another viewing. Polanski, the man, is not a good person by any means, and you can read about his legal history elsewhere. However, Polanski’s ability to deliver a great mystery cannot be denied, and his actors do their part as well.

Brosnan, the former “James Bond” stud, plays Lang as the typical dull politician who appears to be all brawn and no brains, but his role becomes more complex as the film progresses. Olivia Williams is terrific as Lang’s longtime wife; her role isn’t some boring housewife there to support her husband as his political career becomes unraveled. She’s feisty, and we begin to suspect she has some secrets of her own.

There’s some other fine supporting roles, but “The Ghost Writer” belongs to the aforementioned Ghost: McGregor. I’ve always had a soft spot for him as an actor (he’s so dreamy) dating back to his days in the “Star Wars” prequels. He’s one of the most underrated actors of our generation, seamlessly transitioning from gritty characters to quiet, thoughtful ones as well. Here, his Ghost is the fly on the wall that believes he is safe from all the chaos engulfing Lang and his family, only realizing that he is in too deep as well.

As I’ve stated numerous times, I love a good thriller that keeps us guessing. What makes “The Ghost Writer” so special is that it has enough respect for the audience to assemble the pieces of the puzzle for themselves. It’s a slow burn type of film until that phenomenal final act. Not a lot of films provide us with an ending that literally leaves your jaw hanging open, but “The Ghost Writer” does; you won’t know what hit you.

Poe’s Picks is back and boy, is that a beautiful thing.

Until Next Time.

In Good Movies We Trust,


Matt ‘Roger Ebert wishes he was half the film critic I am’ Poe