The Ghost Writer (film)  

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Train wreck at Montparnasse (October 22, 1895) by Studio Lévy and Sons.
Train wreck at Montparnasse (October 22, 1895) by Studio Lévy and Sons.

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


An unnamed English ghostwriter (Ewan McGregor) is recruited to complete the memoirs of former British Prime Minister Adam Lang (Pierce Brosnan). His predecessor on the project, Mike McAra, Lang's long-term aide, died in an apparent accident. The writer's agent, Rick Ricardelli (Jon Bernthal), is very much in favour, and the writer will make $250,000, but the project is on a very tight schedule. The writer travels to the fictional American village of Old Haven (an allusion to Vineyard Haven) on Martha's Vineyard where Lang is staying with his wife, Ruth (Olivia Williams) and a staff of servants and security personnel. The writer is checked into a small hotel. Lang's personal assistant (and mistress) Amelia Bly (Kim Cattrall) forbids him to take McAra's manuscript outside, emphasizing that it is a security risk.

Shortly after the writer's arrival, Lang is accused by former British Foreign Secretary Richard Rycart (Robert Pugh) of authorising illegal seizure of suspected terrorists and handing them over for torture by the C.I.A, a possible war crime. Lang faces the threat of prosecution by the International Criminal Court, unless he stays in the U.S. or goes to another country that does not recognise the court's jurisdiction.

Reporters and protesters swarm over the island. To prevent the press from having access to him, the writer moves into Lang's house, using McAra's old room, whose personal belongings have not been cleared out yet. Lang departs for some high-profile Washington meetings with top US officials to convey the PR message that all is well. As the ghost writer clears the room, he finds an envelope containing clues suggesting McAra may have stumbled on a dark secret. Among the material is also handwritten phone number which the ghost writer discovers belongs to Rycart. During a bicycle ride around the island, as the rain and wind pick up, the writer seeks shelter and meets an old man (Eli Wallach), who tells him that there is no possible way the current could have taken McAra's body from the ferry where he disappeared to the beach where it was discovered. The old man also reveals that a neighbour woman saw flashlights on the beach the night the body was discovered, but later fell down her stairs and went into a coma. Continuing his ride, the writer is intercepted by Ruth and her security guard who have gone out to look for him. On the ride back, she clutches the writer's hand as she cries. He doesn't protest, interpreting her emotional outburst as feeling neglected and abandoned by Lang. Back at the estate, he and Ruth watch the evening news, the leading story being Lang's visit with the vice president in Washington. At the dinner, and later over drinks, they talk fairly openly. The writer wonders why someone like Lang (handsome skirt-chaser) suddenly decided to go into politics in his early twenties when he never had a political thought in his head up to that point. Ruth admits to being much more political than Lang and says that until lately he always took her advice. The writer tells her what he heard about the body from the villager. She seems very shaken by the news and suddenly rushes out into the rainy night to "clear her head". Upon getting back, distraught and soaked, she confides in the writer that Lang and McAra had a terrible row the night before he died and, while weeping inconsolably, wonders "what has my husband gotten himself into." She and the writer end up sleeping together that night.

The next morning, feeling he's becoming too intimate with his subject, the writer decides to move back to the hotel. He gets into the car used by McAra, but instead of going to the hotel he decides to follow the instructions McAra had programmed into the GPS, which leads him off the island to the Belmont estate of Professor Paul Emmett (Tom Wilkinson). Emmett denies anything more than a cursory acquaintance with Lang despite a photograph of the two of them on the wall of his study that Emmett dismisses as Lang showing up at an event organized by Emmett's organisation called Arcadia. The writer then confronts Emmett with the fact that the GPS directions from Lang's estate to Emmett's house were programmed into McAra's car the night he died, but Emmett denies any knowledge and seems evasive as the conversation turns testy. The writer leaves Emmett's estate, and he is followed by a car, but eludes it. The writer boards the ferry, but when he sees the car that had followed him drive aboard, he flees the boat and checks into a small motel by the ferry dock.

The writer dials Rycart, who inquires about his whereabouts and indicates he'll pick him up. While waiting for Rycart, he does a Google search on Paul Emmett, finding that in addition to being a Pulitzer Prize-winning author and geopolitical affairs expert, the professor is linked with the military contractor Hatherton Group through the Arcadia think tank that's focused on Anglo-American relations. He also finds leads that connect Emmett to the CIA as early as 1971 when he graduated from Yale University and was just one of the number of individuals from academia whom CIA recruited for the creation of propaganda material to be used abroad.

Once Rycart arrives, he tells the writer that McAra was the one who supplied him with documents linking Lang to torture flights. The last time they talked McAra also told him about finding something new that he didn't want to talk about over the phone, confiding to him that in case anything happened, the key to explaining everything that had gone wrong in Lang's and Rycart's government was in the beginning of the book. The men cannot, however, find anything in the manuscript's early pages. Then Lang calls and the writer is told by Rycart to go with Lang. On the plane, the writer accuses Lang of being a CIA agent recruited by Emmett, but Lang derides his suggestion.

Upon alighting the aircraft, Lang is assassinated by a British anti-war protestor who had lost a son while Lang was Prime Minister. The assassin is in turn shot by Lang's bodyguards. The writer is questioned by U.S. authorities as the prime witness; they take his passport so that he has to stay and provide information. Despite Lang's death, the writer is asked to complete the book for posthumous publication.

Back in London, during the book launch party, Amelia tells him by accident that the order to have the manuscript accessed by only a few people actually came from the Americans, as the "beginnings" contained evidence that threatened national security. She also tells him that Emmett was Ruth's tutor when she was a Fulbright scholar. He now realises that the clues were hidden in the original manuscript at the beginning of each chapter, and discovers the message, "Lang's wife Ruth was recruited as a CIA agent by Professor Paul Emmett of Harvard University." Ruth has shaped Lang's every political decision to benefit the United States, as directed by the CIA. The writer passes a note to Ruth telling of his discovery. She unfolds the note, and is devastated. She sees the writer raising his glass, as if making a toast to her and leaving the party with the original manuscript in hand. She starts following him but is stopped by Emmett. As the writer crosses the street off-camera, a car accelerates in his direction, and sound effects and flying papers indicate that he has been hit.


See also

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