Set in Martha’s Vineyard and shot off the coast of northern Germany, all is grey and grim and perpetually drizzly in Roman Polanski’s latest directorial effort, THE GHOST WRITER. We never learn the name of The Ghost (Ewan McGregor), who’s hired to finish the memoirs of Adam Lang, the former British Prime Minister, after the first ghost writer is found washed up on the beach, the first in a series of suspicious events that seem to hover around Lang’s house like the dense cloud of fog outside.

The Ghost arrives at Lang’s bleak and secluded home in the same state we do – without a clue as to what transpired before our arrival or what is really happening even now, not unlike Jack Nicholson’s J.J. Gittes in Polanski’s 1974 noir drama CHINATOWN. Like the classic noir detective, the Ghost is a good guy who gets batted around a bit, in this case by his publisher who ridicules his ineptitude for the job with Lang. Once he’s on the job, however, the task of fixing up the memoirs takes a backseat to what his natural curiosity discovers, namely a political hush-up involving terrorism, torture and the CIA.

Like CHINATOWN, what elevates THE GHOST WRITER from action-packed pulp is exquisite storytelling, due largely to Robert Harris’ screenplay, an adaptation of his novel of the same name. Even though this is a thriller in every sense of the word – high drama, twists and turns, mystery, fear, death – the characters are never blown out. Rather, every scene is crafted in an entirely realistic and believable way. The characters speak and behave like actual people; They have real human weaknesses. This may seem like Writing 101, but how many thrillers have you seen that also pay attention to the details? The way, for example, that Ewan McGregor’s character smells a knit cap he’s forced to borrow before reluctantly putting it on. The way he’s annoyed at the advances of Lang’s wife, not flattered. The way he changes the lighting in his motel room twice before opening the door for a politician’s errand boy. It’s all of these human elements that make the punches hit so hard, especially the ending, which hits hardest of all.