Roman Polanksi is a sexual weirdo and a fugitive from justice, but, dang, he makes good movies. A couple of weekends back I stumbled upon The Ghost Writer (2010) on Hulu, more evidence that the streaming service is upping its game.
The Ghost Writer is a product of the Bush Era, when Hollywood was obsessed with Bush Derangement Syndrome—a psychological condition akin to Trump Derangement Syndrome, but which now seems quaint and cute by comparison. The plot involves a ghostwriter (Ewan McGregor) hired to punch-up the boring, windy memoirs of a Tony Blair-esque former British Prime Minister. The former PM is facing prosecution for war crimes for his alleged role in illegally torturing terrorists during the War on Terror, and while he is considered a “world-historical” figure, his pro-war stance while PM has made him deeply unpopular.
Trying George W. Bush and Tony Blair for wars crimes was a pipe dream of the Left in the first decade of the twentieth-first century, before every anti-war Leftist politician became pro-war once Obama was in office. This film was based on a book written in 2007, though, at the height of the anti-Bush, anti-war hysteria.
As such, the unfolding plot feels very much like Leftist wish fulfilment—a cover CIA plot to groom a pro-US PM; indiscriminate murders to cover up the fact; and a shady list of loosely connected characters.
That said, it’s a good thriller. While a bit plodding at times, The Ghost Writer draws the title character into a world of elites in crisis, a world of subterfuge and backstabbing. Even during some of the boring sections, the movie just felt enjoyable—the world it creates for its protagonist is intriguing, and it’s a testament to Polanski’s directorial chops that the movie maintains such a tight feel.
One thing that didn’t make any sense to me: the earlier version of the manuscript, the one MacGregor’s character had been hired to punch-up, contains a coded message about the Prime Minister’s wife, who is (SPOILER ALERT) a CIA operative. So what? No one—and I mean, no one—was going to find that message, even if the original version were published. Even if they did, no one would believe it—it’d be written off as happenstance.
And yet, people were killed to cover up this fact. Sure, if the PM of Britain’s wife was a CIA operative who used her influence over her husband to turn his foreign policy decisions in a pro-US direction, that would be huge news—and an international incident. But what would happen, really? Britain would denounce American intelligence agencies—and that would be that.
Simply put, the CIA is going to do what it’s going to do. They’re the definition of “The Deep State,” and they aren’t going anywhere anytime soon. Americans can’t rein them in—what hope does Great Britain, which is now very dependent upon the United States for its remaining prestige and influence in the world, to do so?
Oh, well. It’s still a taut thriller with some intriguing characters. Check it out.
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