0
STAFF REPORTER

PALMA
THE Oscars may be over for another year but it appears that the luxury of enjoying the very best and latest films in English in Palma is not.
Tomorrow, Roman Polanski's The Ghost Writer, an out-and-out thriller with international politics and war crimes as its background opens at the Renoir in English.

This is certainly one of the director's most commercial films in a while, perhaps since his great thriller Chinatown, although a comparison to that film, with its Robert Towne screenplay so rich in early 20th century California social and political history, would not serve The Ghost Writer well. This is a slicker, shallower exercise. It's hypnotic as it unfolds, but once the credit roll frees you from its grip, it does not bear close scrutiny. In The Ghost Writer, Polanski most clearly means to evoke Hitchcock. Like the master, Polanski builds his scenes through ominous music, the rhythms of his editing, a heightened sense of place and a central figure, an innocent, who struggles to gain control of a living nightmare.

It is one of the story's amusing conceits that this figure is a writer. Not an investigative journalist or high-minded novelist, mind you, but a guy who “ghosts” celebrity memoirs. His last one was about a magician.

This time the ghostwriter (Ewan McGregor) hits the jackpot - only he constantly wonders, What have I gotten myself into? The jackpot is a former British Prime Minister, Adam Lang (Pierce Brosnan), and it's a quick job with a lucrative payday.

He has two reasons to worry. Moments after landing the job, a former cabinet minister accuses Lang of authorising the illegal rendition of British subjects for torture by the CIA. Secondly, he is the second writer on the job. The first one, Lang's longtime aide, drowned under suspicious circumstances. Had he stumbled upon a dark secret in Lang's life that cost him his life? So the ghostwriter - he is not given a name - confronts a manuscript in sore need of rewriting plus the possibility that it contains a hint of what may have caused its writer's death. He also confronts an unusual working arrangement.

It seems the ex-PM is holed up in a seaside town on an island off the eastern U.S. The Lang compound has an icy decor and a kind of sterile warmth against wintry weather that pounds the shore with winds and rain.

The former British leader is cut off from the world, living in a security bubble with a frosty wife, Ruth (Olivia Williams); an aide, Amelia (Kim Cattrall), who may be his mistress; and an always present, if not oppressive, security detail.

The drumbeat from the outside world over the war crimes allegations hits the compound with greater force than the storms, bringing protesters and reporters. The writer struggles to make sense of the small contradictions in his client's story, mixed signals from his wife and a perceived threat lurking “out there” that never quite reveals itself.

This is not the kind of thriller that requires a lot of action. Rather, unease creeps into every word and deed. The very shape and feng shui of the house's interiors feel all wrong. Every human being the ghostwriter encounters seems to be dealing from the bottom of the deck.

There is another ghost here too, that of Tony Blair. Lang happens to share many characteristics with the former British PM, especially an all-too-cozy relationship with the American president that threatens his legacy.