Wednesday, 5 May 2010

The Ghost

2010. Dir: Roman Polanski. Starring: Ewan McGregor, Pierce Brosnan, Kim Cattrall, Olivia Williams and Tom Wilkinson. ●●●●○

One of the curses of a well rounded education and a small exposure to the works of Sigmund Freud is that I tend to over analyse myself. To that end, whilst on one hand I have the perfectly practical reasoning that weekly reviews have been reinstated because the backlog has been dealt with, I think we can all see the subconscious in action as I review Roman Polanski's The Ghost, a critique on the failures of New Labour, especially in relation to foreign policy and anti-terrorism measures, in the week of a general election.

I mention this not only as an insult into the workings of my own mind, but also as a parallel example of how events in he real world can affect artistic decisions. Much too has been made of Polanski's house arrest and how his current situation may have affected the editing of his latest film.

Indeed there are several occasions in the narrative that may be Roman crying out about the mess of the situation. In venom in Kim Cattrall's aide to the former Prime Minister as she spits out "The pack are on the move" in relation to the press. Or Peirce Brosnan's Adam Lang and Ewan McGregor's unnamed ghost writer enforced imprisonment in the Martha's Vineyard mansion that holds most of the action. Of course both of these incident's are lifted directly from Richard Harris' superb source novel but the style and emphasis of these moments - rather then the content - is pure Polanski.

The story is a typical conspiracy thriller. McGregor's anonymous antagonist is surprisingly selected to re-write the ex-British Prime Minster's memoirs following the untimely death of his previous Ghost Writer. He flies to America, entrenching himself with Adam Lang and his wife (Brosnan and Williams) just in time for the European courts to begin proceedings against him for war crimes relating to having knowledge of, and allowing, rendition of terror suspects in order to face torture - it's lucky that America doesn't recognise the International War Crimes Commission, isn't it? Whilst there, with the aid of a couple of university photos, a party membership card and a couple of trips around the island McGregor begins to suspect that Lang may have some very dark secrets and that perhaps his predecessor's death wasn't so accidental.

There is a strange inconsistency in the format of the thriller aspects of the plot. Some clues are given undue attention - the casting of Eli Wallach as a lonely islander seems very odd until you realise he has something very important to say. On the other hand the set-up for the clue in the BMW (product placement aplenty in this film) is superb. The conspiracy itself is also massively flawed, as Robert Pugh former Foreign Minister states in the trailer "Name one decision Lang made in ten years as Prime Minister that wasn't in the interests of the U.S.A." which implicitly indicates it was deliberate not because Lang was weak or misguided.

The two stand-outs in the cast were Brosnan and Williams, both of whom gave fully engaging and dimensional performances. Brosnan in particular should be congratulated for not taking the easy option and impersonating Blair (even though Harris has admitted the character is based on him). The rest of the cast are pretty forgettable, McGregor and Cattrall can't seem to decide what accent their going for and Tom Wilkinson and Timothy Hutton are utterly wasted as Lang's former University colleague and lawyer respectively.

Talking about Harris' novel there are a couple of tweaks towards the end which are diffent. I'm not too keen about the airport scene which in the book has much more to say about Lang's desire to go down in history (there's a moment when he appears to know...). The coda, where the final twist is announced, is far more satisfying dramatically - if a little cheesy - and few could argue that the last shot is the most effective we've seen this year.

Polanski directs the action well, with a palpable tension in the air, aided by the coldness and greyness of the landscape. As with many of his films architecture is vital in sustaining mood, and the presence of the main location is as foreboding and clinical as any prison. So we return to his current lodgings, and the question of whether his art is affected.

Undoutably it is. As undoutably as my review has been timed by my super-ego. Yesterday in British courts six former Guantanamo Bay detainees overturned a ruling that allowed government use of secret evidence to defend itself against a damages claim. Their argument that their illegal detention and torture at Guantanamo was sanctioned, or at least acknowledged, by senior Government Ministers. That's a New Labour Government, a party steeped in socialist values that has eroded civil liberties faster than at any time since the English Civil War, that has widened the gap betwen the rich and the poor and made it harder to bridge that divide, that has created the largest budget deficit in UK history, that has failed to regulate the financial services sector some 2 years after it took us into a recession, that took us into an illegal war and may even have been complicit in toturing innocent men. New Labour has failed. It is indeed time for a change.


Simon said...

I kind of loved this movie, especially Williams, who seems to get drier with every appearence.

I am not British, so I can't vouch for New Labour (or anything with the 'ou' stuck in there). Sorry.

TomS said...

In the US it is known as The Ghost Writer. I wonder if this is just a difference in British vs. American vernacular, or if Hollywood was worried that its core audience (an ignorant lot we are!) would mistake this for a horror film.