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The Ghost Writer

Movie review by
S. Jhoanna Robledo, Common Sense Media
The Ghost Writer Movie Poster Image
Intense, masterful political thriller OK for older teens.
  • PG-13
  • 2010
  • 128 minutes

Parents say

age 15+
Based on 4 reviews

Kids say

age 13+
Based on 8 reviews

A lot or a little?

The parents' guide to what's in this movie.

Positive Messages

No injustice will go unnoticed. Eventually the truth will come out, but the movie implies that there is always a cost to telling the hard truths and exposing injustice.

Positive Role Models & Representations

The lead character, the ghost writer, starts off as indifferent, but soon becomes committed to uncovering the truth, but no good deed goes unpunished and most everyone seems in on this cruel joke.


A dead man’s body washes ashore. Another character is mugged (no weapons flashed, though he’s punched). A menacing feel sits over the movie, as a character races to solve the murder of another character. A man is shot.


A man sleeps with his married client; his naked backside is briefly glimpsed in the semi-dark. The couple is seen under the covers with their shoulders bared. A married man is implied to be having an affair with a member of his staff.


A few mentions of “f--k,” though most of the swear words heard here are milder, such as “s--t” and “goddamn.”


Logos for such firms as BMW, Virgin Air and CNN are clearly visible in various scenes.

Drinking, Drugs & Smoking

Characters drink, sometimes during social occasions, and others, specifically to drown out sorrows/frustrations. A mention of marijuana use during college.

What parents need to know

Parents need to know that this deftly written and directed tale of political intrigue will likely thrill fans of the genre, including older teens. It includes some swearing and brief nudity, and addresses mature subjects such as war crimes and terrorism. Another note: The director, Roman Polanski, is a controversial auteur who is in the news right now. He stands accused of sexually coercing a child many decades ago and leaving the country to avoid prosecution. This movie has nothing to do with his trial and legal situation.

User Reviews

  • Parents say
  • Kids say
Adult Written byMovieMan26 October 11, 2010


Unbelievably dull. I'm not even gong to continue writing about it. Parents: There' some sex and violence, plus language. bottom Line: Sorry for the ne... Continue reading
Parent Written bygenevievecorinne August 16, 2010
I loved the movie. It is a great movie for adults. it has one nude scene and that was Ewan's backside. Besides that there was nothing else. There was drink... Continue reading
Teen, 14 years old Written bycheese-process October 3, 2010

Good movie, but 15+ is too strong a rating.

Are you serious? 15+?? There was nothing bad in it! The nudity/sexuality was mild, as if nobody has ever seen a butt before. I saw worse when I was 10, and... Continue reading
Teen, 13 years old Written bymasonlackey January 15, 2011

What's the story?

A British writer (Ewan MacGregor) is hired to be ex-Prime Minister Adam Lang’s (Pierce Brosnan) “ghost,” meaning he will be revising the politician’s memoirs. The original ghost writer washed up on the shores of Martha’s Vineyard, presumably a suicide or the victim of an accidental drowning. Before he even sets foot on the Vineyard estate in which the PM is holed up, MacGregor's character is mugged -- just the beginning of a series of mishaps that grow increasingly fraught with malevolence. Then, Lang is accused of war crimes. Soon after embarking on the project, the new ghost writer discovers untruths, not including the unraveling of the PM’s marriage (Olivia Williams plays the wife), that point to a scandal of international proportions. The writer might just end up like his predecessor.

Is it any good?

Despite the length of this unrelenting film, no moment or performance is a waste. THE GHOST WRITER opens with a ferry docking in the gloom of a rainy night. On board, a car is unclaimed, the whereabouts of its driver unknown. And so begins this mind-bending thriller based on a novel by Robert Harris that sheds its skin like the proverbial onion, one engrossing layer at a time. Director Roman Polanski has always been great with atmospherics, and he doesn’t disappoint here. For all the complications of his personal life, his filmmaking faculties are clearly intact. He maintains a strong grip on the storytelling, revealing only what’s necessary, and exactly at the right time.

MacGregor is superb, a bemused observer who quickly finds himself on shifting earth. Brosnan relishes a role shaded decidedly gray, and Williams is a perfect woman scorned. The supporting cast, crowded with names like Timothy Hutton, Eli Wallach, and Tom Wilkinson, makes the most of their moments. Kim Catrall, almost wholly identified with the Sex and the City franchise, makes you forget she’s usually a randy cougar. The ending: Though it may feel too cinematically perfect, it works, and very well.

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk about what other recourse the ghostwriter has once he finds himself stuck in the middle of a scandal. What else could he have done? How else should he have responded?

  • What about the political issues brought up by the film? Is what the prime minister accused of actually a war crime?

  • The director, Roman Polanski, is embroiled in a huge scandal, accused of a crime -- rape -- committed long ago. Should this situation have any bearing on his work? Is his art separate from his private life?

Movie details

For kids who love thrills

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