Contender: ‘Ghost Writer’

Polanski pic plunges filmgoers into paranoid realm

Read the Variety review

In the 30 years since “Tess,” nobody thought Roman Polanski had a chance at being in the Oscar race, and then he made a movie called “The Pianist” that came darn close to sweeping the Oscars. Now, the controversial director has come up with a critically respected commercial hit in “The Ghost Writer,” a thinking man’s thriller that leads the European Film Awards race with seven nominations. The indie hit bowed in Berlin and went on to make some $15 million at the U.S. box office for Summit and another $44 million overseas.

Richard Harris’ economical adaptation (written with Polanksi) of his novel “The Ghost” immediately plunges filmgoers into a paranoid — but not too paranoid — realm of ex-world leaders that Polanski’s subtle camera exploits till audiences are as terrified as Ewan McGregor’s title character. The production design underscores the coldness and inhumanity of a world in which spies perform their manipulations.

Polanski, who completed the film while stuck in Switzerland, also draws a complex performance from Pierce Brosnan as the former U.K. PM, while McGregor nails the world-weary writer who uncovers the truth. But it’s Olivia Williams who’s most likely to draw acting mentions for her seductive Lady Macbeth turn as the politician’s ruthless wife.

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