The Ghost Writer tells the story of a nameless writer thrust into a world of political intrigue and murder. Primarily known for fixing up the tell-all biographies of celebrities and tabloid types, the ghost finds himself in over his head when he's given the assignment of punching up a new memoir by a former British Prime Minister named Adam Lang--a memoir that was left partially finished by a predecessor whose body washed up after an apparent drowning.
Lang's ties to the American government are already a subject of some controversy, and not long after the ghost arrives at Lang's Martha's Vineyard retreat, he finds himself entangled in a political mess as Lang is accused by the International Criminal Court of crimes against humanity for his purported sanction of torture tactics against terror suspects.
Lang jets off to Washington to put in some face time, and the ghost is left on the island with a pile of questions and no one to talk to but Lang's steely femme fatale of a wife, Ruth. The ghost and Ruth have multiple conversations (and inappropriate interactions) that lead the ghost to question whether his predecessor's death was truly an accident. His suspicions grow even further when he discovers evidence dug up by his predecessor, hidden away in his unclaimed possessions. Determined to discover the truth, the ghost follows the path of his predecessor, aiming to learn the truth about Adam Lang's shadowy past, and his connections to a variety of unseemly characters.
In Depth Synopsis
The movie begins by showing a ferry of people and an abandoned car, followed by a body washing up on a beach. The body and car belongs to ghostwriter who was working on the memoirs of former British Prime Minister Adam Lang ( Pierce Brosnan). The unnamed ghost writer of the film ( Ewan McGregor) is then shown in a sushi bar being courted by his agent to take on the task of finish the manuscript. The ghost then travels to Martha's Vineyard in Cape Cod, Massachusetts from London in order to work on the manuscript at the home of Lang.
During a flurry of activity on the first day, the ghost meets both Lang's assistant (and alluded mistress) Amelia ( Kim Cattrall) and his wife, Ruth Lang ( Olivia Williams). As the day progresses, news hits that former British foreign minister and UN Envoy Richard Rycart ( Robert Pugh) accuses Lang of authorizing the illegal seizure of suspected terrorists and handing them over for torture by the CIA. This, if true, would be considered a war crime. Lang now faces the threat of prosecution by the International Criminal Court.
This brings a slew of new reporters and protesters to the island and they set up outside the Lang complex. The Lang staff insists that the ghost take up residence in the household instead of the local inn until the matter can be resolved. Lang decides to go to Washington, D.C. as a show that is not worried about the current state of affairs, much to his wife's disapproval. The ghost finds some effects in his predecessors old room that begin to suggest that something is not right about Lang's background. He also has a conversation with an old man who brings up several interesting points about the death of the previous ghost writer that start to unnerve the new ghost.
The ghost confides some of this to Ruth and, while hesitant at first, has sex with her that evening. The next morning he, he follows the GPS in the car of the previous writer. This leads him to New York state and the home of Professor Paul Emmett ( Tom Wilkinson), who also happened to appear in college photographs the ghost found the previous night. Emmett feigns little knowledge of Lang and their time together in college, but he is obviously lying or hiding something. As the ghost leaves the home, he is seemingly pursued in a black car, thinking he would escape it when he gets onto the ferry back to the island. However, that car is the last one allowed on the ferry, so the ghost retreats back onto land just as the ferry leaves.
That night, while staying in a motel adjacent to the ferry dock, he does some internet research and discovers that Emmett may in fact be a undercover CIA agent. At as lose of what to do, he calls the number on the back of a photo the previous ghost writer had in his room. He agrees to the meet the mysterious man on the phone, who turns out to be Rycart, the man accusing Lang of the crimes. Rycart reveals that the previous writer had uncovered hidden information in the "beginnings" of the book. Neither Rycart or the ghost knows what this means.
Lang calls the ghost during this conversation to meet him at the airport,since he missed the ferry. Rycart talks the ghost into going and trying to smoke out the truth from Lang. On the plane, the ghost accuses Lang of being a CIA agent recruited by Emmett, but Lang laughs at his suggestion. Upon departing the aircraft back on the island, Lang is assassinated. Despite Lang's death, the ghost is asked by his agent to complete the book.
In the finale of the movie, the ghost attends the launch party for the book as a guest to Amelia. He sees Ruth chatting with Emmett and figures out what was meant by "the beginnings". Encrypted words at the beginning of each chapter spelled out the truth: Ruth has for years been a CIA agent, recruited by her former tutor Emmett to shape Lang's every political decision without his awareness of her CIA affiliation. After passing a note to Ruth of his discovery, the ghostwriter leaves the launch party with the original manuscript in hand. As he crosses the street off-camera, a car accelerates in his direction, and sound effects and flying papers indicate that he has been hit.