Starring: Ewan McGregor, Pierce Brosnan, Olivia Williams, Kim Cattrall, Tom Wilkinson, Timothy Hutton
Director: Roman Polanski
Writer(s): Robert Harris
Cinematography: Pawel Edelman
Original Score: Alexandre Desplat
Running Time: 128 Mins.
The Ghost opens abruptly, forsaking the usual slow burn of credits over a montage or scene-setting we are thrust straight into the story with a quick “blink and you will miss it” flash of the title a ferry approaches full of foreboding and a car is left abandoned, setting us on the path of mystery and twists that the forthcoming story offers. Based on the novel, The Ghost Writer, by Robert Harris this is Polanski’s finest film since Chinatown and offers a similar premise to that classic noir leading our protagonist, and the audience, on a wild goose chase to uncover the truth behind a complex and politically bound game of hide and seek.
It is no secret that The Ghost Writer (the novel) had its roots in the Blair years, and upon watching the film the parallels are clear, abundantly so at times, but I was left wondering exactly how much of this tale was true, alas this does not matter for what The Ghost effectively does is present one of the most cerebral thrillers in years. Those expecting the Brosnan/McGregor face off that the poster suggests will be left disappointed though, this is McGregor’s film and he carries it with aplomb. Reduced to the Blair-like role, Pierce Brosnan’s ex-PM Adam Lang is all cheesy smiles and pent-up bursts of rage, you never quite know what the man is really thinking…sound familiar?
Hired to re-write (Ghost, is the term) Lang’s memoirs following the death of the previous Ghost is McGregor’s unnamed replacement, McGregor is an actor who seems to be finally capitalizing on his talent after too many duff roles, following the out-there I Love You Phillip Morris with something different as a Polanski film proves a coup for the actor as it effectively demonstrates how adept he is at applying himself to hugely different films and ultimately succeeding. What makes his Ghost such a success is the sheer believability he gives the man, this is not some heroic investigative reporter and nor is he a man who especially works for the good of anyone or anything in particular, rather he is a man thrust into something much deeper than he ever expected.
It’s this labyrinthine plotting that hooks you in, yes we are seeing everything through McGregor’s eyes, but we can empathise with his choices and his actions all feel believable, especially the more extreme ones as they come replete with the sense that he is genuinely scared and fumbling in following the next lead. That said, The Ghost is not as action thriller in the slightest, the closest we get to “action” is an extended scene whereby the Ghost follows the GPS routing in the ex-Ghost’s car, an expertly played out sequence that will have you teetering on the edge of your seat in suspense.
Though this is very much McGregor’s show his relationship with Olivia William’s, Lang’s wife, is delved into much deeper than that of Lang himself, Williams is a hugely talented actress and matches McGregor’s conviction and it is in these scenes we see the frailties of each character while never reducing them to mere ciphers that simply serve the plot, always rounded, always believable it is the performances that will hook you even if it’s the story that interests.
There is little doubt that the plotting of The Ghost is leant credence through its topicality, and you are likely to be left wondering what, if any, of the final outcome is at all close to the truth behind Tony and Cherie Blair, one thing I can be sure of is the expertise demonstrated by a director and actor at the top of their game throughout.