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“The Ghost Writer” (2010) by Roman Polanski Essay (Movie Review)

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Updated: Jun 15th, 2022


In 2010, the movie Ghost Writer was out in the theaters all over the Republic of Ireland and the United Kingdom. Roman Polanski is the director of the movie, and he has been capable of directing a thriller. He builds suspense in a calm, smooth, and confident manner instead of dwelling too much on shock and action (Aitken 2001, p. 35). The movie is based on the novel by Robert Harris, which is known as the Ghost, but screenplays are actually in print created by Harris and Polanski. Some of the reasonably priced stars in the movie include Pierce Brosnan and Ewan McGregor.


A well knows English ghostwriter through his agent agrees to complete the autobiography of former British prime minister. The agent promises him that it would be a chance of a lifetime because he would be playing the part of Adam Lang. The prime minister is advanced by the publishing company with an offer of $10 million so that they could create a story on him. This was an incredible experience for the ghostwriter because he would get a total of $250,000 from the project. From the beginning, the project started on a low note because Mike McAra, the long-term assistant of Lang, died in an accident. This is a serious set back for the ghost writer because he is forced to take a flight in the heart of winter to an estate that is in front of the ocean. In Martha’s Vineyard, the ghost writer is forced to work within the estate because he is barred from going out with the manuscripts. In the estate, the prime minister lives with his wife, security personnel, servants, and his personal assistant, who is also his mistress. As a result, the ghost writer is forced to stay in a small hotel where he rests (Bartram 1996, p. 78)

The following day after the ghost writer arrived; Lang is accused by the previous British Foreign Secretary of allowing the unlawful apprehension of suspected terrorists and giving them over to the CIA so that they could be tortured. This was a move that would see Lang face prosecution because it was a war crime that would make him face the International Criminal Court. The only hope he had of staying a free man was actually staying in America or going to any other country that did not have extradition policies.

All over sudden, the small Island is buzzing with activity because it attracts protesters and journalists from all over the world. In the morning, the ghost writer is woken up by a group of journalists who had sought out refuge in the hotel. Thus, there is no other option than to bring the ghost writer to the house so that they can protect him from the press. Once inside the house, he is given McAra’s bedroom, which has some personal effects which were not removed from the room. A high profile meeting was arranged by his public relations group that focused on informing the public that everything was under control. This meant that Lang had to go to Washington with his assistant so that they could get together with the top US officials (Dyer 1992, p. 76).

While the ghost writer snoops around the room, he stumbles upon an envelope which contains crucial information. The information contained therein, gives clues which suggest that Lang might have some dark secrets about his past. The ghost writer picks up the phone and calls a number that he finds written in some of the materials. At the end of the line, he discovers that it is Richard Rycart’s voice, and he hangs up almost immediately. Richard tries calling back, but the ghost writer does not answer (Everett 1996, p. 48).

The ghost writer seeks shelter from the rain while cycling around the island. During this time, he encounters an old man named Eli, who convinces him that McAra’s body could have been swept by the currents from the ferry to the beach where his body was found. Also, Eli told the ghost writer that her neighbour saw a light emerging from the beach the previous night the body was found, but she went into a coma because she fell down her flight of stairs before she had the chance to have a glance (Finney 1996, p. 98).

On the way back to the house, the ghost writer was intercepted by Ruth in the company of her guard who had come looking for him. Ruth begins to cry and clutches his hand on their way back. The ghost writer deduces this as her emotional flare-up that was caused by abandonment and neglect on the part of Lang (Forbes 2000, p. 56).

In the evening, while both of them were watching the news, the most famous story that was being aired was about Lang’s visit to Washington to meet with the vice president. They later on become open with each other over dinner, and they later had drinks together. At this point, the writer wonders as to why Lang had decided to go into politics despite being extremely young at the time (Fowler 2002, p. 65). Lang was a very handsome young man who had begun his political career in his early twenties. Lang political career has always been influenced by Ruth until lately because it seems he no longer takes advice from her. The ghostwriter informs her about the body that was discovered over the beach, which seems to shake her unconditionally. The moment she left the room and went to clear her head, she came back looking distressed. When she gets back, she tells the writer how Lang had gotten himself into a fight with McAra before he died. That night, the ghost writer ended up making love to Ruth (Holmes 2000, p. 49).

The ghost writer decides to move back to the hotel because he feels that he has become intimate with Ruth which might cloud his judgment. He gets into the car that was previously being used by McAra and decided to use the car’s last known GPRS configuration. He follows the instructions on the GPRS which led him to Belmont estate. There, he meets Professor Paul Emmett, who is from the University of Cambridge. While talking to the professor, his wife was busy over the phone, talking to someone at the other end. The photos left following the death of McAra had the Professor in them together with Lang. Emmett denies nothing further other than brief contact with Lang but the ghost writer is not contended with the explanation because the two were in a photo together. This makes the ghost writer confront Emmett with the facts regarding the GPRS which had been programmed into McAra’s car (Petrie 1992, p. 69).

Emmett seems to be elusive of the questions been asked by the writer and denies any knowledge of Lang whereabouts on the night that he died. The ghost writer is well aware that Emmett is not true to him when the discussion turns testy. When he was leaving the premises, he noticed that he was being followed by unmarked vehicle, but he manages to elude it. Once inside the ferry, he notices that the car that was following him was also a board. He eludes the occupants of the vehicle by sneaking in the back and that night he spends in a motel (Sorlin 1991, p. 43)

The ghost writer decides to dial Rycart who inquires about his location and advices him not to move from where he is. While he is waiting for Rycart, he decides to Google Emmett and finds out that he is competing with the geopolitical affairs and a well renowned author. He finds out that he is linked to the Hatherton Group which is a military contractor which places its focus on the Anglo-Americans relations. In addition, Emmett is rumored to have been implicated with the CIA since 1971, and he had been recruited so that he would be used to create propaganda information, which would be used overseas once he cleared from Yale University. The ghost writer is interrupted by a phone call from Ruth who is very worried because she had been called by the police in reference to the car that had been found on the ferry (Stollery 2000, p. 63).

When Rycart came he did narrate the story to him about McAra because he knew that he had supplied documents which connected Lang to the torture flights. Rycart mentioned that the last time they had a conversation with McAra he was very worried about his future because he had stabled upon crucial information, which he could not explain to him over the phone. He also indicated that the book had everything which was false between the Rycart’s and Lang’s administration. While perusing the book they did not find anything amusing in the beginning of the manuscript. Later on Lang calls the ghost writer and arranges a meeting with him. While in the aircraft, the essayist blames Lang of being a CIA representative because he was signed up by Emmett.

The moment they reached the airport Lang was shot dead by a British anti-war protestor who was bitter because he had lost a son during the Prime Minister tenure in office. The bodyguards in retaliation shot the assassin killing him instantly. The U.S. authorities brought in the writer for questioning because he was the key witness to the death of the former Prime Minister. The writer’s personal items are confiscated by the U.S. authorities and all his possessions included his passport were taken. This took place because he was the key witness to the murder of the previous Prime Minister. Later on the writer is requested to complete the book in order to have it published despite the death of Lang.

During the book launch, at a party in London, Amelia by mistake informs him that the manuscripts contained evidence that jeopardized the national security. Amelia also informs him that Ruth used to be Emmett tutor while she was a Fulbright intellectual, and this enables him to denote the hidden clues which appear in the beginning of the manuscript. The ghost writer later realizes that Ruth had been recruited by the CIA and was the one who actually created every bad choice that Lang made in his political career. The person responsible for all this was Emmett who was Ruth’s professor because he had recruited Ruth. This compels the writer to pass on a note to Ruth who was in the front row telling her that he now know what had taken place. On the look of Ruth’s face, it can be seen that she is very much disappointed because the writer now knows the secret. The playwright begins to walk hurriedly away from the gathering soon after raising his goblet to her as if making-a-toast to her and leaves the ceremony with the original document. She tries to follow him, but she is blocked by Emmett on reaching the door. Once the ghost writer is outside on the street something tragic happens to him when he tries to cross the road. There are documents seen in the air all over the street and sound effects which indicate that the writer has been hit by a moving vehicle.

Allusion to Tony Blair

As seen in the novel, Adam Lang is the character who is depicted as being Tony Blair since he was the previous Prime Minister for Britain. The book is enthused by Tony Blair’s character in reference to the war on terror. Therefore, the ghost writer in the movie depicts Tony Blair being troubled by the fictional Lang with references to the Iraq war. Thus, the film tends to compare the U.S. Secretary of State and Richard Rycart actor in the movie to be similar to real life Condoleezza Rice from America and Robin Cook from United Kingdom. In real life Robin Cook seemed to have disparity in the course which the Prime Minister was taking in matters that concerned overseas policies. Therefore, the temperament of the aged man leaving on Martha’s Vineyard estate appears to be concerning Robert McNamara.


At first Polanski had joined hands with Robert Harris in order to produce the film based on the Harris’s book. Along the way, the movie experienced some set backs due to the fact that some actors went on strike. As a result, the two movie producers turned to Harris, the author of the present bestseller book known as the Ghost. As early as 2008 the movie was set for production since the script was written by Polanski. Nicolas Cage, Tilda Swinton, Pierce Brosnan, and Kim Cattrall were the initially actors chosen to be in the movie, but a technicality arose that made the movie to be postponed and actors changing in respect to the decision made.

Almost a year later the movie was under production at Babelsberg Studios in Germany. The production of the movie was done in Germany because Polanski was not able to travel since he had an outstanding warrant of arrest. Polanski had fled from the United States after pleading guilty to sexual offences against a minor. The film began its operations in 2009 February where it faced some challenges in the beginning due to production management. Martha’s chateau was sited with the use of peripherals in which the movie was created in the Sylt Island and on the commuter boat MS SyltExpress.

The movie takes place generally on the marginal of the house; however it was put-up on the atoll of Usedom, in the aquatic of Baltic. Interiors and exteriors were shot at Charlottenstrasse but were set at the publishing residence within London. The driving scenes were screened in Massachusetts but the actors and Polanski were not present.

In September 2009, during the Zurich Film Festival it happened that Polanski was arrested by the Swiss police. As a result, the creation of the movie was temporarily on hold and he had to finish his work from Swiss cabin because he was under house arrest since he had committed some crimes. In February 12, 2010 Polanski was not able to be present at the world’s film opening which was taking place at the Berlinale celebration.


On 12 February 2010, the movie had a chance to premier on the sixtieth Berlin worldwide Film Festival because it had a chance of being distributed far and wide within Europe during the four weeks that followed. In 19 March 2010, the film was officially released in the U.S. while on 16th April 2010 it was released in the U.K.

Critical reception

The movie has in general received affirmative reactions from movie critics. More that 80% of all the responses received in reference to the movie have been positive. A perfect example of a site which reviews films is Rotten Tomatoes’ where notable critics give their views regarding the movie. This film benefits from a stylish direction but tends to lack the revelatory blow of the finest films done by Polanski films.

There is a strong performance that is seen from Ewan McGregor, which has a tense screenplay. A Meta-critic is a review aggregator which gives a normalized rating from mainstream critics. The scale is measured from 0 to 100 top reviews where the critics can be able to give their views. In this film, an average of seventy-eight percent was given by the critics. Therefore, this film was given a standard rating because it was able to intertwine psychological resilience and artistic point of view. Thus, it is a movie which was directed by a man with the knowledge of directing a thriller. A renowned movie critic named Roger Ebert awarded the movie four stars because of the extra ordinary work which was done by the director (Roman 2010, p. 67).

This is a film that had a topical objective because it caught the attention of nervous and bomb alarmed citizens of Britain and America. The shooting of the film took place in airports and in buildings that are official since security screening refused to allow characters of the spectators to settle down. LAS magazine was able to rate the movie and gave it a 6.8 because it was very intriguing (Tavenas 1989, p. 75).

Funding and political controversy

This movie was able to obtain an enormous sum of monetary sustenance from the German federal government. Therefore, the film seems to be based on propaganda and witch hunting of Blair which has led to a sarcastic assault on Polanski. Majority have not been successful in pointing out that majority of the films created in Germany obtain a funding from the German Federal Film Fund. This positive aspect shows that the funds given out do not necessarily mean that they should be repaid. This film was given a grant of 3.5 million Euros for the production of the film (Tavenas 1989, p. 56).

This film was able to obtain a large sum of financial sustenance from the federal government of Germany. For that reason, the movie seems to be founded on propaganda and witch-hunting of Blair which has caused a sardonic assault on Polanski. Many people have not been successful in revealing that majority of the movies created in Germany obtain financial support from the German Federal Film Fund.

In conclusion, the greatest part of the movie is when the writer finally figures out that all this time Ruth was the one behind this. It is very ironical that the writer does not have the chance to give his side of the story. Through out the movie he remains a sincere and a very curious person; from the beginning of the movie to the end. In fact, all the characters in the movie played there parts very well and some times I wonder if anyone other than Pierce Brosnan could have played the part. This is a wonderful movie because you will enjoy the scenes and the great personalities which make the movie marvelous. The director of the movie uses strategic techniques to capture the attention of the audience and at the same time he manages to leave them in suspense.


Aitken, I, 2001, European Film Theory and Cinema, Edinburgh. EUP.

Bartram, G, 1996, Reconstructing the Past. Representations of the Fascist Era in post-war European Culture, Keene, KUP.

Dyer, R, 1992, Popular European Cinema, Rout ledge.

Everett, W, 1996, European Identity in Cinema, Exeter, Intellect.

Finney, A, 1996, The State of European Cinema, A New Dose of Reality, Cassel.

Forbes, J, 2000, European Cinema; An Introduction, Basingstoke, Palgrave.

Fowler, C, 2002, The European Cinema Reader, Rout ledge.

Holmes, D, 2000, 100 Years of European Cinema, Manchester, MUP.

Petrie, D, 1992, Screening Europe: Image and Identity in Contemporary European Cinema, BFI.

Roman, P. 2010, The Ghost Writer, Box Office, Mojo.

Sorlin, P, 1991, European Cinemas, European Societies, Rout ledge.

Stollery, M, 2000, Alternative Empires. European Modernist Cinemas and Cultures of Imperialism, Exeter, UEP.

Tavenas, S, 1989, Guide of European Cinema. Editions Ramsay.Association Euro-cinema Vincendeau, G. (Ed) Encyclopaedia of European Cinema, Cassel/BFI.

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