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The Ghost Writer—Art Imitating Life?

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Roman Polanski’s The Ghost Writer, based on the novel by Robert Harris, clearly demonstrates that Roman Polanski, at 77 and under house arrest in Switzerland, has not lost his directorial ability to tell a good story. In The Ghost Writer, Pierce Brosnan plays Adam Lang, a former British Prime Minister holed up on Martha’s Vineyard to write his post-premiership memoirs with the help of a “ghost writer.” While the movie disclaims any similarity to any real person, Lang is a dead ringer for former British Prime Minister, Tony Blair, and Lang’s wife Ruth, played by Olivia Williams, bears a striking resemblance to Cherie Blair.

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The story opens with Lang looking to find a new ghost writer to pen his memoir. His long-time aide and ghost writer, Michael McArca, has been found dead — an apparent drowning. Ewan McGregor’s character (“The Ghost”), who befitting a ghost writer remains unnamed in the film, seems an unlikely candidate to ghost a former politician’s memoirs: His most recent ghost-writing assignment was the best-selling memoir of a magician.

The first line out of McGregor’s mouth on meeting the former Prime Minister Lang is: “I am your ghost.” This line will resonate poignantly as the movie unfolds.

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The Ghost meets Lang at a challenging time in his post-premiership. Lang is accused of assisting the CIA in its kidnapping of four Pakistani terrorists. Accusations of being a “poodle” for the U. S. follow Lang as protestors camp out nearby, chanting torturer at him: Clearly, there is no resemblance to any real person here.

As the Ghost (McGregor) begins to work on Lang’s memoirs — with the aid of Lang’s sexy assistant, Amelia Bly played by Kim Catrall — he uncovers information left by his predecessor, McArca, that will put his own life in jeopardy. The last half hour of the movie keeps you on pins and needles.

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The Ghost Writer offers suspense, first-rate story-telling, and for extra measure it includes a wonderful supporting cast. Tom Wilkinson plays Paul Emmett, a Harvard professor, who the Ghost (McGregor) thinks holds the key to Lang’s links with the CIA, Timothy Hutton, plays Lang’s American lawyer, and 94-year old Eli Wallach, makes a brief, but terrific appearance with McGregor.

Given that Polanski is under house arrest, the movie is actually filmed in Berlin (portrayed as London) and the Sylt Islands in the North Sea (portrayed as Martha’s Vineyard and Cape Cod).

While art often imitates life, and The Ghost Writer surely does that, life too imitates art. Just last week, William Hague ( the Shadow Foreign Secretary in the UK) announced that should a Tory government come to power in the upcoming UK elections, Tory leadership, unlike Labor (headed by Blair and now Gordon Brown) will not exclusively look to the U.S as its key alliance. Perhaps the Tories have seen Polanski’s The Ghost Writer.

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