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Uneasy Writer

MOVIE REVIEW
The Ghost Writer/The Ghost (2010)

GHO4742
Guy Ferrandis/Summit Entertainment

Political thriller and political reality occupy the same space in "The Ghost Writer" (a k a "The Ghost" in Britain), as Pierce Brosnan's timely portrayal of a British prime minister in exile falls in sync with Roman Polanski's acutely tangled circumstances. Covered in Mr. Polanski's fingerprints, the film lets the director get stuck into his regular theme of small groups stuck in chilly isolation, and stirs in black satire about a misunderstood world figure looking simultaneously noble and a complete dope.

The dope in question is ex-Prime Minister Adam Lang (Mr. Brosnan), hounded by accusations of collusion in C.I.A. extraordinary renditions and marooned in the United States while international war crimes lawyers sharpen their pencils. At the same time, an unnamed ghost writer (Ewan McGregor) is in residence, working on Lang's memoirs. The previous ghost writer washed up dead on a beach, so the new one has every reason to be nervous.

The political business of lies and lying liars is played very broadly, since Mr. Brosnan has a ball echoing Tony Blair's best and worst mannerisms and the one-liners fly. ("They can't drown two ghost writers," someone tells Mr. McGregor. "You're not kittens.") But Mr. Polanski runs deep rings around the politics with fast-moving bits of stagy thriller business borrowed — more often than not — from himself.

In fact the air grows thick with agenda. Working with blatant green-screen in a windswept corner of Germany thanks to his domestic arrangements, Mr. Polanski seems positively inspired by the chance to work up big riffs about the ability of one gender to lead the other astray, and the use of the written word to clarify past events. The film zips along under Alexandre Desplat's terrific score, but even that takes a mischievous tone, layered in spiky violins threatening to do an actual "Mephisto Waltz" at any moment — the devil made him do it.

Almost everything about "The Ghost Writer" makes it crystal clear that the director still deserves the label of an uncommon filmmaker. What to do about all his other labels remains the problem.

THE GHOST WRITER/THE GHOST

Opened on March 19 in New York and Los Angeles and on April 16 in Britain.

Directed by Roman Polanski; written by Mr. Polanski and Robert Harris, based on the novel by Mr. Harris; director of photography, Pawel Edelman; edited by Herve de Luze; production designer, Albrecht Konrad; music by Alexandre Desplat; produced by Mr. Polanski, Robert Benmussa, Alain Sarde and Timothy Burrill; released by Summit Entertainment (United States) and Optimum Releasing (Britain). Running time: 2 hours. This film is rated PG-13 by M.P.A.A. and 15 by B.B.F.C.

WITH: Ewan McGregor (the Ghost), Kim Cattrall (Amelia Bly), Olivia Williams (Ruth Lang), Pierce Brosnan (Adam Lang), Timothy Hutton (Sidney Kroll), Tom Wilkinson (Paul Emmett), Robert Pugh (Richard Rycart), James Belushi (John Maddox), David Rintoul (Stranger) and Eli Wallach (Old Man).

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