Roman Polanski is at the top of his game in this political thriller about a ghost writer for the memoirs of a retired British Prime Minister remarkably similar to Tony Blair. Polanski masterfully builds a sense of existential dread, as the “ghost” gradually realizes that all is not quite right at the PM’s holiday home. The director knows just when to inject a little humor to keep you off balance (watch for the gardener trying to rake leaves in a rain storm), and the story unfolds just quickly enough that you figure stuff out just a minute or two before the movie shows you the answer. McGregor is great as the ghost, and Kim Cattrall and Tom Wilkinson are outstanding in smaller roles. It’s too bad, therefore, that all this talent is wasted on such preposterous plot. I can’t figure out whether Polanski lives in an alternate reality and actually believes this stuff, or whether he’s just having a joke on his audience. Either way, you wind up with a movie that’s a lot like a diet soda: plenty of promise, but no payoff.
The biggest remaining mystery is where in the world was this movie shot? Most of the action takes place in “Massachusetts,” but Polanski can’t enter the US, right? Wherever it was, he did a good job — the vegetation looks right (although Belmont isn’t that rural), and most of the cars have Massachusetts license plates, with a couple of NY ones thrown in. Movie factcheck zombies claim the buoys in the water were European types not found in New England.