This is how Roman Polanski's new thriller The Ghost Writer (or The Ghost, as it's known everywhere else in the world) begins. And from this thrilling beginning, the film never lets go, keeping the tension high through all the various twists and turns that the story goes through. And its a doozy of a story, with Lang being an obvious allusion to former Prime Minister Tony Blair. There's also a theme about British foreign relations that reminds the audience that Britain has just as many issues as the United States on many of the same grounds. The film's final half-hour is the real reward: a non-stop thrill ride that doesn't rely on physical explosions or car chases, but rather the unraveling of everything in ways that had my jaw dropped all the way to the final shot.
The acting in this film is one of the best ensemble performances of the year. Ewan McGregor does a terrific job as a writer in way over his head, and prevents his character from being more than just an exposition machine. Olivia Williams (whom I know best from the cancelled-before-its-time Dollhouse) is stunning as Lang's wicked-smart wife, a woman who knows exactly how to get what she wants by dangling information without any legitimate promise of divulging it. And Pierce Brosnan delivers a powerful and restrained performance as the icy, chilling Lang. Brosnan, most famous for his stint as James Bond (Goldeneye to Die Another Day), hasn't always picked the best vehicles for his talents, but here he showcases it with brilliant work. He steals every scene he's in, and considering the cast he's with, its quite an achievement.
Then there's Polanski's direction. In my film class this past semester, we had a Polanski mini-festival with Chinatown, Rosemary's Baby, and The Pianist. What I love about his direction here is that, in the 42 years since Rosemary's Baby, his style is still very old-fashioned, and I mean that in the best possible way. Polanski shoots the film like an old master, using dark colors to give everything a sinister and foreboding aura and staging everything so that it always feels as if something is hiding in plain sight. Also impressive is how Polanski created a spot-on New England town in Germany (Polanski, if you haven't heard, is in exile from the United States thanks to an outstanding arrest warrant, and therefore can't actually shoot in Massachusetts).
The Ghost Writer is a magnificent political thriller guaranteed to keep you on the edge of your seat. Hopefully, after sweeping the European Film Awards, Oscar voters can find a place to nominate and recognize this film.