The Ghost

Director    Roman Polanski
Starring    Ewan McGregor, Pierce Brosnan, Kim Cattrall, Olivia Williams, Tom Wilkinson, Robert Pugh
Release    19 MAR (US) 16 APR (UK)    Certificate 15
3 stars


18th April 2010

Polanski's first film in five years has been met with a very mixed response. Little White Lies said "the whole movie is actually Polanski being, well, shit." The Guardian, however, considers the movie to be Polanski's "most purely enjoyable film for years." I'm going to have to embrace my inner Lib Dem and come down squarely in the middle with a solid-but-not-mind-blowing three stars.

Ewan McGregor, an unnamed ghost writer, is hired to scribe the memoirs of former British Prime Minister Adam Lang (Pierce Brosnan). A draft manuscript already exists, penned by McGregor's predecessor who died in mysterious circumstances. Failing to hear the clanging alarm bells, McGregor travels to a remote island hideaway off the US coast where he meets Lang and his intimate clique, among them his wife Ruth (Olivia Williams) and his assistant/mistress Amelia (Kim Cattrall).

On the Ghost's arrival, Lang is at the centre of a media storm having been accused of war crimes for allegedly handing suspected terrorists over to the CIA for torture. The Ghost picks up where his predecessor left off in unravelling a conspiracy that runs deep and spreads wide, with the potential to seriously disrupt the political order. Unsurprisingly, certain people are keen to keep this under wraps, putting the Ghost in serious jeopardy.

The Ghost (The Ghost Writer to our American friends) is astutely topical with clear parallels between Lang and Tony Blair, particularly apparent in a scene in which Lang states he only ever "did what he thought was right". Polanski's own life also creeps into the narrative - Lang cannot return to Britain because he will instantly be arrested to answer charges against him. He must therefore stay on American soil. Sound familiar?

[gallery]The first part of the film when McGregor arrives at Lang's house and meets the key players in Lang's life is enticingly eerie. It is hampered by the fact that the characters must fill in a lot of back-story through their dialogue, some of which is clumsily handled. The middle of the film becomes bloated and flabby as some of the more interesting characters take a back seat leaving McGregor to bumble around in the affair.

There is something fundamentally wrong about seeing a Polanski protagonist crack the case using Google and a sat nav - this is not slick sleuthing. Gone are the days of Jack Nicholson with his beat-up face, hat brim pulled low, cigarette hanging from his lips doing some good old fashioned detective work. It's as if Polanski is yelling "LOOK HOW MODERN I'M BEING" in the face of his audience. No need.

That aside, McGregor's character is appealing because of his combination of jaded worldliness and political naivety. Though he has plenty of ghosting experience, he is completely clueless about the situation he finds himself in and artlessly stumbles into the heart of the intrigue. It's great to see Ewan McGregor in a truly adult role, carrying the momentum of the film, even if his accent is a bit iffy.

The cast on the whole is strong, though the performances are deliberately subtle. Pierce Brosnan is deliciously slippery as the sleazy Lang, while Olivia Williams shines as his fiercely bright but weary wife. Kim Cattrall's performance is blissfully free of the whiff of Samantha Jones, a canny move for Cattrall, who bears a striking resemblance to Fay Dunaway in Chinatown in this movie.

The dramatic tension finally kicks in during the last half hour of the film, pulling it back on track before a terrific ending. There are some echoes of Chinatown present, but it lacks the gravitas and potential for iconic status of Polanski's finest work, and at 76 it's fair to say his glory days are behind him. But this film shows he still has an eye for a great story and is able put his mass of cinematic experience to good use.

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