The Ghost Writer is the latest film from Roman Polanski, also a political thriller, but a bit less frenetic; in fact, it’s as soothing as a Budhist retreat in comparison. In it Ewan McGregor plays a down on his luck author hired to ghost a former British Prime Minister’s (Pierce Brosnan) memoirs after the previous writer (a long time assistant and faithful friend to the PM) is found dead from drowning, an apparent suicide. The basic premise of this story, that the PM’s wife is a CIA operative who actually pulled the strings of her husband’s actions, might have worked well as a dark comedy on the level of Dr. Strangelove and The Loved One, but as a drama, it’s a bit hard to take seriously. The screenplay, by Robert Harris and Polanksi himself, never makes the whole back story believable, though they do provide some of the drollest lines in movies of late. The movie itself, though it has its pleasures, starts out a bit slow (possibly because McGregor never solves the mystery so much as stumbles onto various clues, each discovery of which takes a lot of setting up). It’s not until McGregor drives his predecessor’s car and the GPS leads him to Tom Wilkinson, a slithery professor who claims not to have known the PM and doing such a convincing job of it that one knows he’s lying, that the pace picks up. Wilkinson and especially Brosnan, showing what his career could have become if it hadn’t been sideswiped by Remington Steele and James Bond, give the best performances in the movie. Everyone else gets the job done, though Kim Cattrall doesn’t have the most convincing of English accents (Wilkinson doesn’t have the most convincing of American, but he manages to rise above it). The ending never quite made sense to me. It wasn’t clear who put the code in the book (was it the previous ghost writer or the PM, either choice of which comes equipped with their own set of holes in the plot) and it has one of these codas where the hero has a choice: call the media and the PM’s political opponents and tell them the truth, or reveal it to the one person who can have you killed. Guess which one he chooses? And then he gets killed in a way that can’t guarantee a person would be killed (hit and runs, though visually shocking, aren’t as certain in their results as this movie would have you believe). The movie looks good, with its bleak, film noir cinematography of grays, and the effective music by Alexandre Dusplat adds to the tension, but the story never really works. There’s also an odd subtext to the film. The British, at least in such films and TV programs as Love, Actually, The State Within and The Girl in the Cafe, have often held themselves up as the moral arbiter of the world, a righteous country often checking the U.S.’s rash political policies. Here, the idea is taken one step further: maybe England didn’t take the high road in the war on terrorism, but it wasn’t their fault; the PM’s office was just an extension of the America CIA. This might be a frightening idea if the British hadn’t chosen an organization to blame that couldn’t even kill Castro when it wanted to.