Amid the storm of bad publicity that Roman Polanski has experienced in the last years, his latest offering The Ghost is, despite his difficulties in making the film (editing the film under house arrest in Switzerland), an exceptionally well-crafted political thriller.
Ewan McGregor stars as a two-bit commercial writer, more accustomed to writing the memoirs of so-called showbiz celebrities than ex-Prime Minister Adam Lang (Pierce Brosnan), and it is precisely his lack of political knowledge and his belief that it is ‘heart’ that truly makes a biography sell that leads to his appointment, taking on the job in the wake of the previously appointed writer’s suspicious death. Soon after his appointment, Lang is back in the news, accused of war crimes; suddenly McGregor’s unnamed writer is in far deeper than he could have anticipated.
Lang’s media savvy Prime Minister, in his politics, unavoidably echoes the Blair years; especially in his close relationship with America. This very deliberate decision, to reflect recent politics in turn aids the film’s narrative, making the events of the film seem almost unnervingly close to reality. The tension of the film is constant throughout, from the cold-opening showing the body of the deceased ghost writer, to the film’s ending; with the final act taking place off camera, there’s almost a sense of relief when the film ends.
McGregor, Danny Boyle work aside, is not a great actor, but under the direction of Polanski manages to serve as a fairly credible and engaging protagonist, whilst the rest of the cast are pitch-perfect; Brosnan’s Lang is especially memorable, almost larger than life in his characteristics, as is Olivia Williams as the ever incisive and intelligent Ruth Lang.
The Ghost in Polanski’s hands is wonderfully shot, the grim atmosphere and continual rain serves to add to the increasing isolation of McGregor’s writer as he feels more and more overwhelmed by his appointment. Yet The Ghost will not be remembered as a classic Polanski film: Polanski has done far better (Chinatown especially), yet the film’s on edge and claustrophobic atmosphere does hark back to Polanski’s glory days. Public scandal aside, there is little doubt that Polanski is a masterful director, capable of creating tension-filled, narrative driven films.