The Ghost – A Review

19 04 2010
Roman Polanski, The Ghost, The Ghost Writer, Kim Cattrall

Kim Cattrall, Olivia Williams and Pierce Brosnan in 'The Ghost'

Much has already been written about the uncanny coincidence that sees The Ghost go on general release while its director, Roman Polanski, languishes under house arrest in his Swiss chalet. The film, which deals with a similarly-encumbered ex-British-Prime-Minister, is based on Robert Harris’ novel and was conceived, in large part, as a comment on the legacy of Tony Blair. In the wake of Polanski’s unexpected arrest in September however, The Ghost now also seems eerily prescient of the fate that may await its director, who has long lived with the threat of extradition to the US, having fled from unresolved rape charges in 1978.

The ‘ghost’ of the title is Ewan McGregor, a London-based author hired to ghost-write the autobiography of ex-PM Adam Lang (Pierce Brosnan). He arrives on the New England island where Lang is now based to find a man living virtually under siege, holed up in his high-security compound with only his wife (Olivia Williams) and his personal staff for company. When an international arrest warrant is issued against Lang on charges that he handed over detainees to the CIA for torture, the ex-PM is further isolated. Besieged by protestors and media helicopters, he is advised by his lawyers not to leave the US for fear of being prosecuted elsewhere.

There’s another ghost on the scene too. McGregor’s predecessor as ghost-writer is found dead in the film’s first few moments, washed up on a beach after having seemingly drowned in an accident. All that’s left behind for his successor is a wardrobe full of clothes and an anodyne first draft of the autobiography which, as they say in publishing circles, ‘needs work’. McGregor (his character is never given a name) soon comes to suspect foul play and, possibly against his better judgement, starts to investigate the death. Meanwhile, Adam Lang’s mood hovers somewhere between anger and instability. As he flies backwards and forwards between Washington and the island, he seems to have less and less time for his book, or for its unfortunate author. Mrs. Lang, too, seems stuck in a rut. Sulky, bored and resentful of her husband’s relationship with his personal assistant (Kim Cattrall), she starts to confide in the writer and seems to share some of his suspicions. 

Fans of Polanski will be glad to see the director back on such familiar territory. In the film’s claustrophobic island setting, and its sense of urgent, sweaty paranoia, there’s much that recalls his work from the ’60s and ’70s (particularly Cul-De-Sac, Knife in the Water, Rosemary’s Baby and The Tenant). With an unintentionally helpful Asian gardener and (without giving too much away) a somewhat cynical finale, The Ghost is also, at times, reminiscent of Polanski’s best-known film, Chinatown.

The Ghost, The Ghost Writer, Ewan McGregor, Roman Polanski

McGregor investigates... 'The Ghost'

The politics that are at the forefront of Harris’ novel are allowed to take a back seat here, with the director much more interested in the psychological, murder-mystery side of the story than its denunciation of Blair. Revelations, when they arrive, often do so after some decidedly heavy-handed plotting, with, on at least one occasion, a key narrative twist relying on an almost unbelievable stroke of investigative luck. But the whole thing is carried off with such cheerful aplomb, and with such an awareness of its own ridiculous tendencies, that you really don’t care. Polanski has set out to deliver a thumping-good, creepy thriller, and that’s exactly what he gives us. 

The cast seem to be enjoying themselves too. Brosnan is alternately charming and paranoid as Lang, McGregor slips into a comfortable ‘Laaahndan geezer’ persona that seems, at least in part, based on Tony Parsons, and Olivia Williams brings real depth and complexity to her Cherie Booth-like role. There’s also a brief, barking-mad cameo from Eli Wallach as a tough old islander, and some nicely downbeat, wintry cinematography from cameraman Pawel Edelman.  

The Ghost is on general release in UK cinemas.

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One response

26 04 2010
Paragraph Film Reviews

McGregor slips into a comfortable ‘Laaahndan geezer’ persona – Oi well laiked ‘es acksent!

Well spotted. I really enjoyed the execution of this film over the pretty boring, and standard, story.

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