The Ghost Writer (film)

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The Ghost Writer
The Ghost Writer poster.png
US film poster
Directed byRoman Polanski
Screenplay byRobert Harris
Roman Polanski
Based onThe Ghost
by Robert Harris
Produced byRoman Polanski
Robert Benmussa
Alain Sarde
StarringEwan McGregor
Pierce Brosnan
Kim Cattrall
Olivia Williams
Tom Wilkinson
Timothy Hutton
Jon Bernthal
David Rintoul
Robert Pugh
Eli Wallach
CinematographyPaweł Edelman
Edited byHervé de Luze
Music byAlexandre Desplat
Distributed byOptimum Releasing (United Kingdom)
Pathé Distribution (France and Switzerland)[1]
Kinowelt Filmverleih (Germany)[2]
Release dates
  • 12 February 2010 (2010-02-12) (Berlin Film Festival)
  • 18 February 2010 (2010-02-18) (Germany)
  • 3 March 2010 (2010-03-03) (France)
  • 16 April 2010 (2010-04-16) (United Kingdom)
Running time
128 minutes
CountriesUnited Kingdom
Budget$45 million[2]
Box office$60.2 million[2]

The Ghost Writer (released as The Ghost in the United Kingdom and Ireland)[3] is a 2010 neo-noir[4] political thriller film directed by Roman Polanski. The film is an adaptation of a 2007 Robert Harris novel, The Ghost, with the screenplay written by Polanski and Harris. It stars Ewan McGregor, Pierce Brosnan, Kim Cattrall, and Olivia Williams.

The film was a critical and commercial success and won numerous cinematic awards including Best Director for Polanski at the 60th Berlin International Film Festival and also at the 23rd European Film Awards in 2010.[5]


A ghostwriter is hired by the publishing firm Rhinehart, Inc. to complete the autobiography of the former British Prime Minister Adam Lang. The ghostwriter’s predecessor and Lang's aide, Mike McAra, has recently died in a drowning accident. The ghostwriter travels to Old Haven on Martha's Vineyard, Massachusetts, where Lang and his wife Ruth are staying with Lang's aides, including Amelia Bly. Originally staying at a hotel, the ghostwriter is relocated to Lang's estate when the media descend on the island after learning of Lang's presence there.

The former British Foreign Secretary Richard Rycart accuses Lang of authorizing the forcible abduction of suspected terrorists, a possible war crime. Lang faces prosecution by the International Criminal Court unless he stays in the United States (which doesn't recognize the ICC's jurisdiction). While Lang is in Washington, DC, the ICC announce the beginning of an investigation into the accusations. The ghostwriter finds an envelope containing photographs and a phone number in McAra's old room. The ghostwriter calls the number and discovers that it belongs to Rycart. While out cycling in the rain, the ghostwriter speaks to a local elderly man and learns that the current could not have carried McAra's body to the site on the beach at which it was found, which indicates that someone planted the body there; a local woman saw flashlights on the beach on the night it was found but she later fell down the stairs and is now in a coma.

Ruth and the ghostwriter have dinner together while Lang is away and the ghostwriter explains his discoveries about McAra. That alarms Ruth, who rushes outside to clear her head. When she returns, she tells him that Lang and McAra argued the night before his death over something. Ruth and the ghostwriter have a one-night stand.

The ghostwriter takes McAra's car with the intent of returning to his hotel, but he follows the pre-programmed directions on the car's sat nav instead. The car takes the ghostwriter to the Belmont, Massachusetts home of Professor Paul Emmett.

Emmett denies anything more than a cursory acquaintance with Lang, despite several pictures of the pair together. When the ghostwriter tells Emmett the sat nav proves that McAra visited him the night he died, Emmett denies meeting McAra and becomes evasive.

Someone follows the ghostwriter on the way back to Martha’s Vineyard, and he tries to escape on the ferry. When they follow him onto the ferry, he jumps off as it is leaving the dock and checks into a nearby hotel. With no one else to turn to, the ghostwriter asks Rycart for help. The ghostwriter researches links between Emmett and a military contractor as well as the CIA. Rycart reveals that McAra gave him documents linking Lang to so-called "torture flights" in which terrorist suspects were placed on private jets to be tortured while airborne.

Rycart claims that McAra found new evidence, which he wrote about in "the beginning" of the manuscript. The men cannot, however, find anything in the early pages. The ghostwriter discusses Emmett's relationship with Lang, and Rycart recounts how Lang's decisions as Prime Minister uniformly benefited US interests.

The ghostwriter is contacted by Lang, who is returning from Washington on his private jet and offers him a lift, which Rycart insists he accept to avoid suspicion. Armed with the evidence, the ghostwriter confronts Lang and accuses him of being a CIA agent recruited by Emmett, which Lang angrily denies. When the plane lands, Lang is assassinated by a man armed with a rifle - he had a son who died "in one of Lang's illegal wars." The assassin is shot dead by Lang's bodyguards. The ghostwriter is asked to complete the book for posthumous publication.

At the book's launch party in London, the ghostwriter learns from Amelia that Emmett, who is in attendance, was Ruth's tutor when she was at Harvard University. Whilst going through the original manuscript, he learns that it was suspected of being a security risk and that the truth was in "the beginnings". Going through the manuscript in a back room, the ghostwriter discovers that McAra wrote the truth by using the first few words of each of the first few chapters, which spell out, "Lang's wife Ruth was recruited as a CIA agent by Professor Paul Emmett of Harvard University." He concludes that Ruth ensured that every decision Lang made as Prime Minister directly benefited the US. The ghostwriter passes a note to Ruth that reveals his discovery. She unfolds the note and is devastated. She sees the ghostwriter raising a glass to her. The ghostwriter leaves the party and Ruth tries to follow him, but Emmett stops her. As the ghostwriter crosses the street a car accelerates in his direction, and a thud is heard. Witnesses react in horror, and the pages containing McAra's manuscript scatter in the wind.


In addition, James Belushi plays John Maddox, Rhinehart's New York executive.


The North Sea ferry MS SyltExpress that was used as the Martha's Vineyard ferry in the film.
A prop Ford Crown Victoria used in the film as a police car.

Polanski had originally teamed with Robert Harris for a film of Harris's novel Pompeii,[6] but the project was cancelled because of the looming actors' strike that autumn.[7][8]

Polanski and Harris then turned to Harris' current best seller, The Ghost. They co-wrote a script and in November 2007, just after the book's release, Polanski announced filming for autumn 2008.[9] In June 2008, Nicolas Cage, Pierce Brosnan, Tilda Swinton, and Kim Cattrall were announced as the stars.[10] Production was then postponed by a number of months, with Ewan McGregor and Olivia Williams replacing Cage and Swinton, respectively, as a result.

The film finally began production in February 2009 in Germany, at the Babelsberg Studios in Potsdam. Germany stood in for London and Martha's Vineyard due to Polanski's inability to legally travel to those places, as Polanski had fled the U.S. in 1978 after pleading guilty to unlawful sex with a 13-year-old girl. The majority of exteriors, set on Martha's Vineyard, were shot on the island of Sylt in the North Sea, and on the ferry MS SyltExpress. The harbor exterior were shot on both the German island of Sylt, and the Danish island of Rømø. The exterior set of the house where much of the film takes place, however, was built on the island of Usedom, in the Baltic Sea. Exteriors and interiors set at a publishing house in London were shot at Charlottenstrasse 47 in downtown Berlin (Mitte), while Strausberg Airport near Berlin stood in for the Vineyard airport.[11] A few brief exterior shots for driving scenes were shot by a second unit in Massachusetts, without Polanski or the actors.[12]

On his way to the Zurich Film Festival, Polanski was arrested by Swiss police in September 2009 at the request of the US and held for extradition on a 1978 arrest warrant. Due to Polanski's arrest, post-production was briefly put on hold, but he resumed and completed work from house arrest at his Swiss villa. He was unable to participate in the film's world premiere at the Berlinale festival on 12 February 2010.[13]

Non-fictional allusions[edit]

Pierce Brosnan plays the character of Adam Lang, who has echoes of former British Prime Minister Tony Blair. The character is linked to the 2003 invasion of Iraq, the war on terror and the special relationship with the United States. The author of the book on which the film is based has said he was inspired at least in part by anger toward Blair's policies, and called for him to face war crimes trials.[14]

Robert Pugh, who portrayed the former British Foreign Secretary, Richard Rycart, and Mo Asumang, who played the US Secretary of State, both physically resemble their real-life counterparts, Robin Cook and Condoleezza Rice. Like the fictional Rycart, Cook had foreign policy differences with the British Prime Minister. The old man living on Martha's Vineyard is a reference to Robert McNamara.[15] Hatherton Corporation alludes to real-life Halliburton.


The film premièred at the 60th Berlin International Film Festival on 12 February 2010,[16] and was widely released throughout much of Europe during the following four weeks. It went on general release in the US on 19 March 2010 and in the UK on 16 April 2010.[17]

For the US theatrical release, the dialogue was censored and re-dubbed with tamer language in order to meet the Motion Picture Association's qualifications for a PG-13 rating.[18] The censored PG-13 version was later used for the US DVD and Blu-ray releases while the uncensored version was retained for most international DVD and Blu-ray releases.[19]


The film has received positive reviews from critics. Review aggregator Rotten Tomatoes reported that 84% of critics gave positive reviews based on a sample of 210 reviews with an average rating of 7.4/10.[20] The website's critics consensus reads, "While it may lack the revelatory punch of Polanski's finest films, Ghost Writer benefits from stylish direction, a tense screenplay, and a strong central performance from Ewan McGregor."[20] Another review aggregator, Metacritic, gave the film an average rating of 77% based on 35 reviews.[21] At the end of the year, the film placed at #4 in both Film Comment and The Village Voice's annual critics' polls.[22][23]

Critic Andrew Sarris wrote that the film "constitutes a miracle of artistic and psychological resilience."[24] Roger Ebert gave the film a full four stars and declared it was "the work of a man who knows how to direct a thriller."[25] Jim Hoberman of The Village Voice placed the film at #3 on his year-end list and wrote that "The Pianist had its moments, but Polanski hasn’t made a movie so sustained in the decades since The Tenant or even 1966’s Cul de Sac."[26] Jonathan Rosenbaum would later write that "The Ghost Writer is easily Polanski’s best film since Bitter Moon, and certainly his most masterful."[27] Political analyst William Bradley dubbed it "one of the best films I've seen in recent years" in a review for The Huffington Post that dealt with the film's artistic and political dimensions.[28] The Guardian said "Roman Polanski's deft take on Robert Harris's political thriller is the director's most purely enjoyable film for years."[29]

However, John Rentoul from the UK's liberal The Independent, who describes himself as an "ultra Blairite with a slavish admiration for Tony", and John Rosenthal, from the conservative Pajamas Media, both denounced the film because it was made with financial support from the German government. Rentoul also criticized Polanski describing the film as "propaganda" and a "Blair hating movie".[30]

Keith Uhlich of Time Out New York named The Ghost Writer the second-best film of 2010, describing it as "what an expertly executed thriller is supposed to be."[31]


The movie has won numerous awards, particularly for Roman Polanski as director, Ewan McGregor in the lead role, and Olivia Williams as Ruth Lang.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ "The Ghost Writer (2008)". UniFrance. Retrieved 5 June 2021.
  2. ^ a b c "The Ghost Writer (2010)". Box Office Mojo. Retrieved 26 August 2010.
  3. ^ 6 April 2010: "Free Preview Screening the Ghost in Dublin". Retrieved 30 January 2012
  4. ^ Phillips, Gene D. (2012). Out of the Shadows: Expanding the Canon of Classic Film Noir. Scarecrow Press. p. 225. ISBN 9780810881891.
  5. ^ Brooks, Xan (5 December 2010). "Roman Polanski film The Ghost Writer dominates European awards". The Guardian. Retrieved 14 April 2014.
  6. ^ Siegel, Tatiana (16 November 2010). "Roman Polanski returns with 'Ghost' - Entertainment News, Film News, Media". Variety. Archived from the original on 16 November 2010. Retrieved 6 May 2020.
  7. ^ Rotten Tomatoes 12 September 2007: Roman Polanski Flees Pompeii. Retrieved 30 January 2012
  8. ^ Mr. Beaks (5 March 2010). "Mr. Beaks Interrogates The Ghost Writer Novelist-Screenwriter Robert Harris!". Ain't It Cool News. Retrieved 5 March 2011.
  9. ^ Siegel, Tatiana (7 November 2007). "Roman Polanski returns with 'Ghost'". Variety.
  10. ^ Fleming, Michael (25 June 2008). "Cage, Brosnan see Polanski's 'Ghost'". Variety.
  11. ^ Database (undated). "Filming Locations for The Ghost Writer (2010)". Internet Movie Database. Retrieved 5 March 2011.
  12. ^ The end credits list Wellfleet, Provincetown and Bourne, Massachusetts
  13. ^ Verschuur, Paul; Pettersson, Edvard (28 September 2009). "Polanski Arrested in Switzerland on 1978 U.S. Warrant (Correct)". Bloomberg. Retrieved 5 March 2011.
  14. ^ Barbara Plett (19 March 2010). "How Realistic Is New Polanski Film The Ghost?". BBC News. Retrieved 5 March 2011.
  15. ^ French, Philip (18 April 2010). "The Ghost—Roman Polanski's Immaculately Crafted Adaptation of Robert Harris's Bestseller Is a Chilling and Sinister Study of Power". The Observer. London. Retrieved 5 March 2011. Oddly, as co-adaptors, Polanski and Harris have played down a character carefully signalled in the book. In the film, the 94-year-old Eli Wallach plays an elderly Vineyard resident who gives the ghost writer some vital information concerning the cove where the previous writer's corpse washed up. In the novel, he is clearly identified as the former secretary of state Robert McNamara by his rimless glasses and hairstyle, his statement about war crimes ("We could all have been charged with those. Maybe we should have been.") and a reference to a real event in 1972: "Hell, a guy tried to throw me off that damn ferry when I was still at the World Bank." This explains Harris's curious, ludic choice of the name McAra for the original ghost in the novel.
  16. ^ Berlin Film Festival Program
  17. ^ IMDb: Release dates for The Ghost Writer. Retrieved 30 January 2012
  18. ^ "The Ghost Writer". Retrieved 28 December 2020.
  19. ^ "The Ghost Writer". Retrieved 28 December 2020.
  20. ^ a b "The Ghost Writer (2010)". Rotten Tomatoes. Fandango. Retrieved 5 October 2021. Edit this at Wikidata
  21. ^ "The Ghost Writer Reviews". Metacritic. Retrieved 21 February 2010.
  22. ^ "Film Comment's End of Year Critics' Poll 2010". Film Comment. Retrieved 28 December 2020.
  23. ^ "Film Poll: Top 10 Movies By Year, 1999-2016". The Village Voice. 13 February 2018. Retrieved 28 December 2020.
  24. ^ Archived 9 May 2010 at the Wayback Machine
  25. ^ Ebert, Roger (24 February 2010). "The Ghost Writer". Chicago Sun-Times. Retrieved 5 March 2011.
  26. ^ "Year in Film: Hoberman's Top 10". The Village Voice. 22 December 2010. Retrieved 28 December 2020.
  27. ^ "Sex Games (on Polanski's BITTER MOON)". Jonathan Rosenbaum. Retrieved 28 December 2020.
  28. ^ Bradley, William (22 March 2010). "The Ghost(s): Of Tony Blair, Roman Polanski, and A War on Terror". HuffPost. Retrieved 5 March 2011.
  29. ^ Bradshaw, Peter (12 February 2010). "The Ghost Writer". The Guardian. Retrieved 14 April 2014.
  30. ^ Rentoul, John (26 May 2010). "I Was Wrong About The Ghost". Independent Minds (blog via LiveJournal). Archived from the original on 19 August 2011. Retrieved 5 March 2011. {{cite journal}}: Cite journal requires |journal= (help)
  31. ^ Uhlich, Keith (21 December 2010). "Best (and Worst) of 2010". Time Out New York. Archived from the original on 11 March 2013. Retrieved 21 June 2020.

External links[edit]