“Ghostwriter” reveals heinous crimes

The Ghostwriter

Directed by Roman Polanski

2010, PG-13, 128 min.

Moviegoers who adore Roman Polanski’s greatest American movie, “Chinatown,” and who can look beyond accusations that the director is personally guilty of a heinous crime, are also going to like “The Ghostwriter.”

Polanski again takes an anti-hero who’d rather not be involved, like Jack Nicholson’s “Chinatown” detective, and immerses him in mysteries small and humongous until he is forced, still reluctantly, to resolve them. “Chinatown” slowly, eventually, revealed itself to be a highly political movie, and so does Polanski’s newest.

Ewan McGregor underplays his role of the ghost, as all the main actors do, except Pierce Brosnan, who plays a flamboyant former British Prime Minister that reminds us a lot of a recent one. The question before the central character, and before the audience, actually, before the world, is this: “Is the former Prime Minister of England guilty of the most heinous war crimes?”

“Heinous war crimes,” by the way, is used synonymously with “Cooperating with the Bush administration.”

Of the actors, the film belongs to Olivia Williams as the PM’s long-suffering, often betrayed, and sometimes ignored wife. Her fans will be delighted to see her do so well in a role far more demanding than her long-time Friday night TV role as the dominating madam in “The Dollhouse.” Film headliners like Tom Wilkinson, Timothy Hutton, Eli Wallach and James Belushi cruise through the movie in barely recognizable cameos. The actual star of the movie, from beginning to end, is its director.

In a style associated with Alfred Hitchcock, Polanski squeezes drama out of the pores of ordinary scenes. Just watching cars load onto a ferry boat quickens pulses and pulls audiences out of their seats toward the screen; and that’s just the first scene. Be ready for a challenging emotional involvement with this suspenseful film.