If the Langs bear more than a passing resemblance to the Blairs - as in Tony Blair and Cherie Booth - that's no coincidence. And the scandal that comes raining down on Lang - that as prime minister he was party to war crimes in Iraq and was a willing dupe of the United States - mimics charges that have been leveled at Blair.
But as for the rest - a twisting knot of intrigue involving break-ins, stolen documents, bodyguards, car chases, hidden messages, the CIA, and pulse-pounding Google searches - it's all merrily sinister cloak-and-dagger stuff. The plot thickens, and McGregor's wordsmith, holed up in the isolated Lang compound (or in a comically deserted nearby inn), hunts for clues. He bicycles through wicked rain to find witnesses who saw his predecessor's body washed up on the shore. He rifles files (paper and electronic). He gets intimate with his subject's wife, Ruth.
And Williams (the teacher who counsels Carey Mulligan in An Education) is terrific here. Ruth is acerbic, aloof, calculating, vulnerable. With her husband distracted by political calamity, a publisher hungry for his tome, and the amorous attentions of his personal assistant (Kim Cattrall, deploying a clipped, convincing British accent), Ruth sets out to seduce the visiting writer. This, in fact, she does.
"The modesty of the morning after," she deadpans to McGregor the next day, as he hurries to throw on some cover, in the wake of their bedroom tryst.
The Ghost Writer is beautifully framed and shot (by Pawel Edelman). Tom Wilkinson, John Bernthal, Timothy Hutton, Jim Belushi, and Eli Wallach have small, memorable turns, and the music, by Alexandre Desplat (Oscar nominated for Fantastic Mr. Fox), is rife with plucky tension.
To compare The Ghost Writer to earlier, more substantial Polanski fare - Chinatown, Rosemary's Baby - is to play a meaningless game. It's like comparing early Dylan to his latter-day recordings. But Polanski, who edited the film while under house arrest in Switzerland and fighting extradition to the United States, has produced a neat and humorously nasty noir. His film doesn't demand much from the viewer, but its smart dialogue, nimble syncopations, and tricky suspense are - while you're there in the theater, in the dark - thoroughly satisfying.
Contact movie critic Steven Rea
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