Roman Polanski's political thriller is entertaining, but lacks depth
Cert: 15, 128 mins
Starring: Ewan McGregor, Pierce Brosnan
Roman Polanski is back. Well, actually, no, he’s not – he’s under house arrest, awaiting sentencing for doing bad things with an underage girl back in the 70s. But with The Ghost, the director of Chinatown and The Pianist has certainly made one of his most straightforwardly enjoyable films – a tense political thriller that manages to maintain a brooding atmosphere of menace throughout.
Sure, this adaptation of Robert Harris‘ pot-boiler – featuring a PM and his wife clearly based on the Blairs – may not have the depth or complexity of his best work, but it’s that rare thing: a breathlessly entertaining film for people who don’t normally watch breathlessly entertaining films.
Ewan McGregor plays a jobbing ghostwriter, used to churning out populist celeb tomes, who suddenly finds himself with the gig of a lifetime: jazzing up the dry autobiography of the former Prime Minister – played with a domineering intensity by Pierce Brosnan in one of his best performances. Oh, and the last ghostwriter was found drowned. But that’s probably nothing to worry about…
As McGregor tries to write the book, he finds himself in the unenviable position of finding out piece by incriminating piece of the PM’s unsavoury past, all the while becoming more embedded into his camp, as the PM faces a possible trial for war crimes.
It’s been called a throwback to classic Hitchcock thrillers, and the parallels are hard to deny. Indeed, in the best tradition of Hitchcock the central mystery is kinda beside the point – The Ghost does stretch credibility a bit at its climax. But what’s really impressive is the journey. You’d expect thrills when McGregor, for instance, finds himself chased by various shadowy figures.
But Polanksi doesn’t rely on this – in fact, far more nerve-shredding are quiet scenes, tick-tocking conversations that carry menace and weight with every word, long shots that drip with dread.
It’s the kind of film that comes along all too rarely, and you find yourself hoping it won’t be his last.