In my recent post about "Trust", I mentioned that I had also been watching "The Ghost Writer" and found smiliarites between the two films, in that they are both more on the quiet side and both end not the way you'd expect your typical Hollywood ending to happen.
Something else they have in common is that they truly both live from the excellent performance of their actors and not from any technical gimmicks or special effects.
"The Ghost Writer" is based on "The Ghost", a novel by Robert Harris. The author has worked closely with director Roman Polanski, co-writing the script. Robert Harris also appears on the DVD's extras in interviews.
Ewan McGregor plays an English ghost writer who is asked to complete the memoirs of former British Prime Minister Adam Lang (played by Pierce Brosnan, who, like everybody else in this film, is just perfect for the role). The ghost writer's predecessor has died (apparently by accident), and to finish the work, the new man is sent to the house on Martha's Vineyard where Lang, his wife and a number of staff are staying.
Soon after his arrival, the ghost writer has the feeling that not everything (and everyone) is as it should be. Did his predecessor really die by accident, or was he on to something from the former Prime Minister's past that should have better be left undiscovered?
At the same time, Adam Lang is publicly accused by his former Foreign Secretary of having allowed terrorist suspects to be handed over to the CIA, in the full knowledge that these suspects were then subject to torture to gain information from them.
The ghost writer gets entangled in a mess of political and personal threads running through the past and present life of Adam Lang and his wife Olivia, and fears for his own life, which leads him to take action - and that then really sets things in motion.
At the end of the movie, we have three dead men (not counting the first ghost writer) and a finished book that is about to become a bestseller.
I won't say more about what is going to happen and what the ghost writer found out, because the film is well worth watching without me spoiling all the suspense.
And there is a lot of suspense - building up in a quiet manner, without a lot of the "action scenes" so typical for many Hollywood blockbusters. Even the one car chase is quiet, believe it or not.
The styling throughout the film is impeccable: the house on Martha's Vineyard, where much of the story takes place, is modern, cold, angular; the colours of everybody's clothing fits in with that atmosphere, the bleakness of the grey sky and landscape add to it, and nothing you see, nothing at all, is there by chance. The ghost writer is never named - something I didn't even realise until later. Unusual for a central character in a film not have a name, but it works!
When I watched the extras on the DVD and read up on the film, I found out that the scenes set on Martha's Vineyard were actually shot in Germany, on the islands of Sylt (North Sea) and Usedom (Baltic Sea). I read a few reviews and descriptions of the film and found that most of them mentioned the visual stylishness - but what amazed me is that nobody said anything about the extremely sparse use of music.
For a lot of the time, all you hear in this film are the sounds that you'd really hear if you were there, in that house, in those rooms, on your own on the beach, at a hotel bar where you are the only guest, and so on. And when there is music, it is not designed to quicken your pulse with suspension by dramatic crescendos, but it does so in a quiet, almost secret manner, adding to the atmosphere of secrecy surrounding the entire project of Adam Lang's memoirs.
The parallels to real life politics are certainly there, but not always intentional; when Robert Harris wrote the book, a lot of what we know now had not yet happened.
This was one film I can definitely recommend.