First off, let me just get my reaction to this film off my chest: W-O-W!! Think what you want about Roman Polanski’s infamous history, but there is no arguing that this director is one of the most formidable and talented filmmakers in history. What makes The Ghost Writer succeed so well is the experience and talent Polanski infuses the film with. This movie could have easily ended up being a cliched, whodunit filled with cheap scares and thrills like you see in a Sandra Bullock thriller. Instead, we get a smart, sharply written, wonderfully acted, stylish, and sophisticated thriller that easily ranks as the best film I have yet seen this year.

The Ghost Writer is about…you guessed it….a ghost writer (Ewan McGregor) who is hired to ghost write the former British prime minister’s (Pierce Brosnan) memoirs. The prime minister’s previous ghost writer is shown at the very beginning of the movie mysteriously dead on a beach. McGregor is initially reluctant to take on this job because he’s not really into politics and his forte is writing fiction, not nonfiction and especially not political nonfiction. However, the money is good and he figures it will be a quick edit and nothing more. Unfortunately for McGregor, we soon discover that the prime minister is embroiled in an international scandal involving him in approving the illegal detainment and torture of British citizens accused of supporting terrorism. McGregor’s curiosity is aroused by these turn of events and he begins to delve into the prime minister’s past. What he uncovers goes far beyond what he expected and what anyone knows about the prime minister.

Even if you’re clever enough to figure out the ending before the movie ends, your enjoyment of the film won’t be diminished in the least bit. The beauty of The Ghost Writer is the journey it takes you to get to the finish. I didn’t particularly find the ending to be a shocking reveal, but that didn’t matter. What mattered was the care and detail the director took to tell us the story. There isn’t a wasted second in this 2 hour and 8 minute movie. Its paced steadily and it requires your absolute attention to keep up with the story. The Ghost Writer reminded me a bit of a Hitchcockian thriller in the way every character is different from what he or she at first appears. The only character who is what he seems to be is McGregor, who is basically the audience. Not unlike Alice entering Wonderland, through McGregor we enter the secret world of international politics. Its a dark, cold, and insecure world thats perfectly represented by the dreary, unfriendly, and modern house the prime minister lives in by the ocean.

What makes this movie work so well is that we are never ahead of McGregor’s character. We discover each secret along with him until the very end. I have always liked Ewan McGregor’s work and he was probably one of the few things that worked in the Star Wars prequels. However, I have never seen him successfully carry a movie by himself and this is the first time I have seen him do so. His character is immediately likable the moment you meet him at his publisher’s office. He’s witty, smart, and unconventional and he balances the grimness of the political situation with his charm. I thought it was a bit curious that McGregor just played a writer (a journalist actually) in his last movie, The Men Who Stare at Goats, but I suppose its not something to give a shit about considering how well he performs his roles.

Pierce Brosnan was a more questionable bit of casting for me when I first saw his name on the poster. Besides James Bond, Brosnan has never impressed me with his choice of roles and talents. I get the sense that he relies too much on his physical looks to get by rather than win the audience over by his acting skills. So I was a little apprehensive of seeing him take on such a meaty role in a Roman Polanski movie. However, I’m happy to say that not only does Brosnan pull off the role splendidly, it may just be the best performance I have seen him give in his career. His character is obviously modeled after Tony Blair (NOTE: The film is set during the Bush years), but he’s a more old-fashioned kind of politician who maintains a Cold War mentality of how the world works. He’s an ambitious man who unravels before the audience’s very eyes as he tries to damage control the international scandal thats quickly ruining his reputation. Brosnan brings an intensity to the character that makes him a little frightening and definitely someone not to fuck with.

One performance that deserves a special mention is Olivia Williams. She is outstanding as Brosnan’s wife, who suspects her husband of cheating on her with his personal aide (Kim Cattrall). Williams has the best lines in the movie and she dominates every scene she is in. Unfortunately I can’t remember any specific lines she says, but there are a few pieces of dialogue that will make you absolutely love her character. As I just mentioned, Kim Cattrall plays Brosnan’s personal aide. I didn’t have an issue with her performance, but I thought it was strange for Polanski to cast an American to play a Brit and especially an American who displayed such a horrible British accent. I’m guessing that Cattrall was mainly cast for her looks because I can’t imagine any other compelling reason to put her in this role.

The Ghost Writer is a great movie and its a showcase of Polanski’s immense talents. These days it seems that there are way too many thrillers who rely on gimmicks and scares to win the audience. They come off as cheap entertainment rather than works of art. With this film, Polanski shows the importance of making a thriller that relies on good craft and great storytelling instead of gimmicky crap. This is a movie not to be missed and I urge anyone looking for a good story to check this out.