Putting Roman Polanski’s personal troubles aside for once and concentrating on his work, The Ghost is a tautly written and directed thriller with an excellent cast, but one that doesn’t have the explosive punch of the director’s former glories.
Ewan McGregor plays an unnamed protagonist hired by an international publisher to ghost write the memoirs of disgraced former Prime Minister, Adam Lang (Pierce Brosnan), currently living in exile on a small island off the coast of the USA. He’s been accused of handing over terrorist suspects to the CIA for questioning so the publishing deal carries with it a great deal of money.
To further complicate matters, the previous ghost writer was found dead, washed up on a beach and so McGregor has been hired as a last-minute replacement. He’s immediately flown out to Lang’s personal retreat where the manuscript is held under lock and key in his office.
As soon as he arrives, it’s obvious that something isn’t right. Lang’s residence is under siege from protestors and the media and a former colleague have announced plans to hand him over to the International Criminal Court if he leaves the US (a country which doesn’t recognise the jurisdiction of the ICC).
Lang’s assistant Emilia (Kim Cattrall) is also oddly over-protective; clearly there’s a lot here we aren’t being told, and as he begins to pick at the loose threads of Lang’s memoirs, McGregor is drawn ever closer to Lang’s sharply astute but long suffering wife.
Polanski has managed to craft an intense and gripping thriller. McGregor’s confusion becomes our own and we’re carried with him to unravel the next bit of the mystery. This is helped by a wonderful cast. Ewan McGregor puts in his best performance in years (despite initial misgivings about his London accent) – he’s suspicious from the outset – bewildered but not stupid; his natural curiosity as a journalist and his niggling for details eventually triggers an unexpected avalanche.
Brosnan is perfect as the slippery Lang (a clear parallel to Tony Blair) – his natural good looks and charm coupled with a proven ability to remain calm under pressure (we’re talking about a former Bond here – how could anyone be more composed?) are either the well-groomed habits of a good guy or a clever mask for all manner of evil machinations. It’s the ambiguity which makes his character interesting; is McGregror writing the memoirs of a misunderstood politician or a reprehensible monster?
But it’s Olivia Williams who steals the show as Lang’s sharply focused wife, irritated that her husband is coming under such scrutiny, suspicious of Emilia and frustrated that for once he’s not listening to her advice.
Unfortunately it’s hamstrung by a guessable revelatory conclusion that never really has the punch of former Polanski gems like Chinatown and its join-the-dots mystery sometimes edges close to becoming a made-for-TV movie than a cinematic experience. However, this is a solid mystery thriller with some excellent performances and wouldn’t be a bad note for Polanski to end on if it turns out to be his last.