A lot or a little?
The parents' guide to what's in this movie.
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.
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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?
- In theaters: February 19, 2010
- On DVD or streaming: August 2, 2010
- Cast: Ewan McGregor, Kim Cattrall, Olivia Williams, Pierce Brosnan
- Director: Roman Polanski
- Studio: Summit Entertainment
- Genre: Thriller
- Run time: 128 minutes
- MPAA rating: PG-13
- MPAA explanation: language, brief nudity/sexuality, some violence and a drug reference
- Last updated: March 14, 2020
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