The Ghost is the latest film from Roman Polanski, the director of such great films as Repulsion, Knife in the Water, Chinatown and Rosemary’s Baby. It is based on the novel of the same name by Robert Harris and stars Ewan McGregor as the unnamed ‘The Ghost’. He is a ghost writer hired to work on the memoirs of former UK prime minister Adam Lang (Pierce Brosnan) who has clearly had a turbulent time in office and is attempting to safeguard his legacy with a memoir that paints him in a good light.
Following the death of the first ghost writer hired to work on the project, McGregor’s character, somewhat reluctantly, takes the job after a hasty interview and is asked to turn the rough manuscript into a decent book in just four weeks. He travels to the island where he meets Lang, his wife Ruth played by Olivia Williams, his assistant Amelia Bly played by Kim Cattral and the various people who tend to the house and protect Lang. Before the ghost writer even gets a chance to get stuck into re-writing the manuscript Lang is caught up in a new scandal surrounding his role in the torture of prisoners. The ghost writer begins to get more and more enveloped into this world which is filled with secrets and shady characters.
In many ways the plotting is reminiscent of Film Noirs with the central character’s spiralling descent into this dark and mysterious world which he is constantly trying to understand despite the many twists. The audience are also taken along with him, seeing the situations through his eyes, always unsure of the truth. Polanski adds to this plotting with wonderful visual devices that help to unease the audience. For instance, in a discussion between the ghost writer and Ruth, the camera focus shifts in a somewhat unusual way that helps add to the sense that something is amiss.
The title of the film differs between the UK and America, where it was titled The Ghost Writer, and I feel this is a significant difference. The Ghost is a title that is much less opaque than The Ghost Writer and allows for more ambiguity, something that the film backs up. The character of The Ghost is indeed a Ghost Writer but, as he states, he is The Ghost of Adam Lang and he is also The Ghost of the previous writer. This ghost concept adds a more interesting layer to the plotting and in particular the repetition of his predecessors final days features heavily. Although this, and the idea of him being Lang’s ghost, is dealt with in an often heavy handed way it does add more depth to what is otherwise a reasonably lightweight film.
Although a film that features politics throughout it does not actually feel that political. The scandal that surrounds Lang and the suggestions at collusion between the UK and US obviously have parallels in real life but the film does not go much further than just using them as the back drop for a reasonably conventional thriller. That said it was refreshing to watch a new release that was without doubt a film aimed entirely at adults. Although I love many recent blockbusters and ‘children’s films’ it is now almost rare to see a mainstream film that makes no concessions to a younger audience.
The performances in The Ghost are hit and miss including the good but not exceptional central performance by Ewan McGregor. Pierce Brosnan is suitably smarmy as Lang and Olivia Williams is excellent as his acerbic wife Ruth. Not so good is Kim Cattrall as the assistant Amelia whose accent veers all over the place and her main emotional scene near the end of the film is laughably bad. There are some wonderful cameos worth keeping an eye out for including James Belushi as a bullish American publisher and the 95 year old Eli Wallach in an unfortunately small expositional role.
Apart from a few moments, such as the aforementioned visual devices, the film is for the most part actually very simply shot with few stylistic flourishes. With a competent but somewhat middle of the road score adding to the sense that what we are watching is not a masterpiece by a great director, but a passable film by a director who can definitely do better. Viewed without the history of incredible films that Polanski has made The Ghost is a good film but considering this legacy it seems almost pedestrian.
The Ghost is released in the UK on the 16th April and you can check out the trailer embedded below.