Director: Roman Polanski
Cast: Ewan McGregor, Pierce Bronson, Olivia Williams and Kim Cattrall
Screenwriters: Robert Harris
Release Date: April 2010 (Still on general release)
Ewan McGregor portrays the aforementioned hack biographer hastily parachuted in by a publishing house to refine the stodgy memoirs of former British Prime Minister Robert Lang (Pierce Bronson), currently self exiled in the US and embroiled in a pending political storm surrounding human rights issues and the extradition of terrorists to the US whilst in office.
When Lang’s former political aid and ghost writer’s body is found dead, washed up on a Cape Cod beach head, the Ghost Writer begins to question the task he has inherited and the nature of his predecessor’s death.
Thomas Harris adapted his own novel for Roman Polanski’s film, which itself draws on the current political themes of the Middle East, Anglo-US government co-operation and the media spotlight.
Current affairs aside, the film bears all the hallmarks of classic seventies based conspiracy movie thrillers (the central character being drawn into a conspiracy of a high level political nature, finding himself isolated, shadowed by henchmen and ultimately finding a whistle blower figure providing answers and possible safety) leading to a standard but entertaining political-murder-scandal mystery.
Polanski’s direction is taut and stylish throughout. The bleak winter setting of Cape Code provides a moody backdrop to proceedings (bleak skies, driving rain and stretching beaches) and is enhanced by a brooding film score by Andre Desplat.
Brosnan provides an assured performance as the Ex-PM, in never veering too close to the character the role is given an air of mystery and loftiness/authority leading to quiet desperation and anger as the fictional Ex-PM is warranted for potential war crimes by authorities outside of the US. Ironically, the film veers close to real events with the Iraq enquiry just behind us and Polanski’s own current relations with US authorities.
McGregor gives a likeable and sound performance as the central character out of his depth, fearing for his life and unravelling political and murder mysteries. However, I wished he had retained his Scottish accent and not resorted to the cod London voice adopted for the role.
However, the stand out performance in the film comes from Williams as the beleaguered wife of the former PM. Under pressure, in the spotlight and with her own political past (agenda?) the character comes across as vulnerable and acts of one of the talismans to draw the Ghost Writer and us further into the mystery.
Strong performances also come from Kim Cattrall as Lang’s personal aid, Tom Wilkinson as an American academic with political interests and James Belushi as an ex-minister and government whistle blower (complete with authentic British accent).
Although never reaching the heights of his previous classic thrillers such as Chinatown (1974), The Ghost is ultimately a stylish, taut workman like film from Polanski, providing two and half hours of high brow entertainment whilst still managing to comment on the morals of raging war on terrorism. Recommended.