Does The Ghost Writer qualify as a roman à clef? The premise—a former British prime minister has become a loathed public figure for his support of controversial American efforts in the Middle East and the "War Against Terror"—is obviously meant to evoke Tony Blair, and the movie features obvious stand-ins for Cherie Blair, Condoleezza Rice, and Halliburton, among others. But it progresses in such a loopy, paranoid way that even I—not exactly a huge fan of the CIA or Cheney-linked defense contractors—could only shake my head in a daze.
In lesser hands, the whole thing might not have ranked much higher than a dopey "ripped from the headlines" episode of Law & Order. But it's not in lesser hands; it's in the hands of Roman Polanski, who, despite being a repugnant human being, is a brilliant director. Consequently, The Ghost Writer is a far better movie than it has any right to be: tense and pointed, with finely layered performances and a haunting air of exile. (I try not to think too hard about that last bit.)