I would be remiss in my role as a hack film critic not to open this review of Roman Polanski's new film with some glib assessment of the director's present legal plight, so let's get it over with: Roman Polanski is a pedophile presently awaiting sentencing in the relative luxury of his private chalet in the Swiss Alps. This fact has nothing to do with The Ghost Writer, yet nearly every review I've read thus far has combed the film for clues regarding the septuagenarian director's state of mind. Though typically a proponent of the separation of art and artist, I've got to get my lazy journalist brethren's backs on this one: It's an inescapable fact that drugging and raping a 13-year-old and then fleeing the country to avoid jail time is still the last truly notable thing the man has done with his career. Fuck the Polanski apologists—if some time behind bars will prevent this man from making any more movies like The Ghost Writer, it's a win-win for everyone.
Ewan McGregor plays the titular scribe, who's been handed what appears to be the gig of a lifetime: the chance to ghost the memoirs of a recently disgraced former British prime minister (Pierce Brosnan). One thing, though: The ghost's predecessor just wound up swimming with the fishes under exceedingly suspicious circumstances, near the same Massachusetts compound where our protagonist is meant to finish his manuscript. Within minutes, the film's mystery begins to unfold like a Hanna-Barbera cartoon as acted by a series of Tennessee Williams heroines. In three days' time, the ghost manages to uncover a 40-year-old political conspiracy involving the CIA and the highest-ranking government officials in the US and the UK, skirt death a handful of times, beds the PM's wife, and becomes the key witness in an unlikely political assassination.
Suffice to say, Chinatown this is not. If an auteur is truly only as good as his last picture, the unrepentant little creep is likely to go to his grave a sex offender first, film director second.