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Williams is a standout as political wife in 'Ghost Writer'

Posted: February 25, 2010

Roman Polanski's "Ghost Writer" has prompted critics to scour the movie for clues as to the director's fugitive-rapist mind-set, so I'll demur...

And focus instead on the underappreciated talent of Olivia Williams, who has a key turn in this moody political thriller as Ruth, the bitter wife of a disgraced, exiled (to the U.S.) British prime minister (Pierce Brosnan).

The role is timely and resonant - in Ruth you see shades of Elizabeth Edwards or Hillary Clinton, the partner/adviser who vigorously walks the corridors of power with her husband, and wearily tolerates the exercising of his alpha- male privileges.

Ruth is comfortable in smoke-filled rooms, and blows some of it herself - often in the direction of the blond assistant (Kim Cattrall) who's snogging her husband.

They're all shoehorned into a remote and rain-swept Massachusetts beach house, where a wisecracking ghost writer (Ewan McGregor) arrives to rewrite the prime minister's tedious memoir, and to help with damage control - former aides are accusing the PM of war crimes, based on his complicity with the United States on the Iraq invasion.

All in all, a fine mess, and it must be said that Polanski navigates and defines the territorial and psychological conflicts with finesse and sardonic wit.

The personal rivalries/attractions become just as much fun as the cloak-and-dagger stuff, which kicks in when the writer concludes that his predecessor was murdered - probably after discovering archival material linking the PM to a troubling conspiracy. McGregor's character is in too deep on a couple of fronts - there's also his growing interest in Ruth, whose initial facade of icy contempt gives way to wounded, vulnerable loneliness, with an intriguing touch of predatory opportunism.

It's a chewy role for Williams, who, as usual, makes the most of it. She was given crucial grace notes in "Rushmore" and "The Sixth Sense," and was the heart and conscience of "An Education" ("Go to Oxford, no matter what.").

And she's the best reason to see "The Ghost Writer," a suspenseful thriller until it goes bonkers in the late going as the movie plods past two hours.

Conspiracies tend to wear implication better than explication, and "Ghost Writer" is a prime example.

The movie rests on an international plot so complex, so sinister, so shadowy, so slippery, so diabolical, that the only thing that can expose it is - a 10-second Google search.

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