Directed by: Roman Polanski
Countries & Regions: Germany, United States
Length: 123 mins
Region: Region 2
Released: 20 September 2010
Cat No: OPTD1817
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Also available on Blu-ray
Roman Polanski directs this political thriller based on the novel by Robert Harris. Ewan McGregor plays a ghost-writer who is hired to... Read More
Since The Bourne Identity (2002), the thriller genre has become overpopulated with humourless assassins, dizzying rooftop chases, lightening-fast pugilism, and incredibly shaky camerawork. Leave it to an old pro like Roman Polanski to deliver one of the most stylish and satisfying thrillers of recent years.
Based on Robert Harris's 2007 best seller, The Ghost stars Ewan McGregor as an (appropriately anonymous) ghost writer who is offered an astronomical sum to re-write the autobiography of ex-Prime Minister Adam Lang (a sickly suave Pierce Brosnan). The catch? The Ghost's predecessor died under strange circumstances, and there may be more in Lang's rambling memoirs than meets the eye.
The Ghost is spirited away to a remote island retreat, where Lang's tome is kept under lock and key by his personal assistant, Amelia Bly (Kim Cattrall). But when ex-Foreign Secretary Richard Rycart (Robert Pugh, channelling the late Robin Cook) initiates war crimes charges against his former boss, press and protesters close in. The Ghost suddenly finds himself trapped with Lang's wife, Ruth (Olivia Williams), for company, and a deadly mystery locked within the document's pages.
Like Alfred Hitchcock, Polanski knows that the height of tension can be achieved simply by leaving two people alone in a room, and most of the film's action is confined to the stark modernist cage of Lang's mansion in Martha's Vineyard. The nearest we get to a car chase involves some sharp driving around a ferry terminal - certainly nothing you'd lose your licence over. There are frequent nods to the Master of Suspense - including a closeup shot which tracks a folded note as it passes, hand-to-hand, through a crowd - but this classy, claustrophobic piece is vintage Polanski, and Alexandre Desplat's score evokes the taut thrillers of the 70s.
McGregor plays The Ghost as something between an unscrupulous hack, a likeable rogue and an out-of-his-depth everyman. Cattrall and Williams are perfectly cast as the two very different women in Lang's life, whilst Brosnan tears into the role of the larger-than-life ex-PM with relish.
For many, the prospect of seeing a Blair-like figure facing charges at the Hague will be a dream come true, and many of the crimes levelled against Lang, which include collusion with extraordinary rendition and torture, are torn straight from recent headlines. But despite these deliberate parallels, Polanski steers well clear of polemics or point-scoring, and never lets the political themes of the story overwhelm its human aspects. Indeed, it's not hard to find similarities between Lang's predicament and that of Polanski himself - a man who, as a result of past crimes, now finds himself trapped in a gilded cage.
Whatever the rights and wrongs of Polanski's case, we can all be grateful his particular cage had the necessary facilities to allow him to complete post-production on this assured and enjoyable piece of film-making.