Archive for April 19th, 2010

The Ghost

I went into this movie with somewhat mixed expectations. I had read and enjoyed Robert Harris’ previous novels Fatherland, Enigma and Archangel but found the movies (and TV in the case of Archangel) adaptations a little disappointing, none of them were bad movies they just didn’t live up to the books.  In the case of The Ghost, I haven’t read the book.  There are a couple of things in this movies favour it is directed by Roman Polanski, a director who whatever you think about him it is hard to deny his amazing ability.  The second thing, the screenplay is adapted by Polanski and Harris.  

When the ghost writer working on the autobiography of former British Prime Minister Adam Lang (Pierce Brosnan) is found dead they hire a replacement (Ewan McGregor).  McGregor’s character who is never named only referred to as “The Ghost” travels to Martha’s Vineyard where Lang along with his wife Ruth (Olivia Williams) and assistant Amelia Bly (Kim Cattrall) are staying at a house owned by the publisher.  With just four weeks to produce a publishable book the Ghost quickly gets to work but soon realises things are not what they seem.  Is there more to the Prime Ministers “special relationship” with America than is commonly known and is that related to the death of the first ghost?

As I alluded to above Roman Polanski is a supremely talented director, he is also a old and experienced one with a career that has spanned nearly fifty years.  With The Ghost he has crafted an old fashioned movie. To call something old fashioned could be construed as derogatory, in this case it isn’t, it is a supreme compliment.  Where an average modern thriller has kinetic pace with shaky cameras and too many edits, The Ghost is slow and deliberate taking its time to unfold the story.  The editing forgoes the current trend for fast cuts instead choosing to linger on the subject.  The script, particularly the dialogue is excellent making the characters totally believable.  There are also nice touches and attention to detail with things going on in the background.  The camera lingers showing us things without the characters discussing them helping the story to unfold in a realistic way.  What Polanski has tried to do here is reminiscent of what Martin Scorsese did with Shutter Island but in many ways he is more successful than Scorsese was. He is helped by the fact that this is less of a genre piece but even so to make a better movie than Scorsese is an immense achievement.  As is often the case Polanski has got the best out of his actors: For the second time this month I am hugely impressed with Pierce Brosnan.  Ewan McGregor presents a likeable character despite his horrendous accent (I think it is supposed to be London.  There is nothing in the plot of the movie that would prevent him using his own accent).  The real star performance though comes from Olivia Williams.

As for the subject matter the comparisons between Adam Lang and Tony Blair are inevitable.  The former Prime Ministers recent appearance in front of the Chilcot Enquiry make the release of the movie quite topical. Taking “extraordinary rendition” as the reason to accuse Lang of war crimes rather than the allegedly illegal war that it has been suggested makes Tony Blair a war criminal helps keep the movie fictional without it losing its relevance. The fact the main character is referred to as “The Ghost” helps to reinforce the idea that Lang is haunted by his past. As The Ghost starts to uncover what his predecessor discovered this idea of haunting becomes more real.  It also makes the movie a classic investigation based whodunit reminiscent of movies of the 40’s and 50’s.  There is a scene early in the movie after it is announced that former British Prime Minister Adam Lang is to be investigated for war crimes; it is suggested that he should remain in America who don’t recognise ICC (International Criminal Court). A list of other nations that don’t recognise the ICC resulted in some somewhat nervous laughter from the audience.  The idea of a director who can not return to the United States making a movie about a man who can not leave the United States has a certain symmetry.  To add to this the movie mainly takes place on an island in a house that looks like a prison within a heavily guarded compound.  This is old ground for Roman Polanski who in Rosemary’s Baby and Repulsion turned characters own houses and apartments into terrifying prisons.

The film isn’t perfect, the plot and its revelations are pretty simple and basic but it gets away with it because of the supremely confident and assured direction. What the story lacks in originality it more than makes up for in intrigue and mystery.  The Ghost is just Polanski’s tenth movie since his masterpiece Chinatown more than thirty-five years ago.  Whist none of these movies have lived up to Chinatown they have all been worth seeing and this one is no exception. Possibly a more a movie for movie lovers that for everyone but certainly a breath of fresh air for anyone who feels jaded by unnecessary sequels, mindless blockbusters and crappy gimmicks like 3D.

Four Stars Out of Five

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