Film Review: The Ghost

2010 – 122mn - 15

Directed by Roman Polanski. Starring Ewan McGregor, Pierce Brosnan, Kim Cattrall, Olivia Williams, and Tom Wilkinson.

Review by Walter Nichols

BASED on Robert Harris’s best-selling novel The Ghost, this movie tells the story of a ghostwriter (Ewan McGregor) hired to pen the memoirs of a reclusive former Prime Minister (Pierce Brosnan), after his first “ghost” dies under mysterious circumstances. The ex-PM is under media pressure due to his involvement in illegal rendition and torture, and McGregor’s ghost slowly starts suspecting his predecessor was, in fact, killed – killed for knowing more than he should have…

The fun of Harris’s novel, of course, was that his fictional PM was obviously based on Tony Blair, and his fictional PM’s wife on Cherie. It’s even more fun in Polanski’s film, as both Pierce Brosnan and Olivia Williams do their best to underline the parallels. Brosnan, except for an odd roving accent, hits the nail on the end, capturing perfectly the hubris and siege mentality of a once powerful man self-righteously digging his heels in, in his best me-against-the-world fashion. Williams’s turn is more panto bitch – mercurial, strong-headed, outspoken, and manipulative.


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McGregor’s back on form, self-effacing and charming; and the only weak link is Kim Cattrall, who seems to think she’s still in Sex and the City, and this is an episode in which Samantha clumsily pretends to be a frigid upper-class Brit.

Many people will draw the obvious parallel that Polanski, who’s been in the news lately, understands better than most the position of a man hounded, judged, and in exile; and even though obvious parallels often hold little insight, the director does avoid clich�d lines of good versus evil. Tellingly he paints his story in shades of grey. The PM’s compound in exile is bleak and isolated, covered by heavy gunmetal clouds and mercilessly beaten by wind and rain. The people who live there seem at first a small, tight clan, but under the slick, polished surface brew resentment and suspicion on all sides. Polanski’s control of his craft is evident and, save for a few stiff moments, he builds his story with masterful simplicity, slowly ratcheting up the tension right up to the bitter end.

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(4 stars)

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