VOD film review: The Ghost
Ivan Radford | On 11, Mar 2017
Director: Roman Polanski
Cast: Pierce Brosnan, Ewan McGregor, Olivia Williams, Kim Cattrall
Watch The Ghost online in the UK: Amazon Prime Video / iTunes / TalkTalk TV Store / Google Play
Pierce Brosnan plays disgraced Prime Minister Adam Lang (Brosnan) in Roman Polanski’s expertly gripping thriller. Based on Robert Harris’s novel, which plays fast and loose with the trials of Tony and Cherie Blair, The Ghost sees Lang on the verge of publishing his memoirs, just as he is accused of war crimes – more specifically, aiding the illegal rendition of terror suspects for the CIA. It’s a clear nod to the post-Iraq revelations, complete with the formidable PM’s wife Ruth (Williams) standing overshadowed in the background. It also resonates with the film-maker’s own personal situation: one moment sees the characters discuss Adam avoiding certain countries because of The Hague’s international jurisdiction.
But the film so busy building up suspense that any real life parallels never cross your mind. When Lang’s ghost writer washes up dead on a beach, Ewan McGregor gets called in by the publishers for a hefty sum of money. His job: to finish the manuscript and cement Lang’s legacy, before things get out of hand. Naturally, things take a turn for the shady as soon as he steps into Lang’s hideaway: a bleak concrete block in the middle of a deserted island. Add in his mistress and assistant Amelia (Cattrall) and things get tense very quickly.
Milking the atmosphere for all its worth, Polanski skilfully shoots the grey interiors and empty landscapes, investing the piece with an ominous undercurrent. It’s a compelling and exciting adaptation, even though there’s not much action to speak of – the nearest to a car chase is an unsettling sequence where McGregor (whose name neatly goes unmentioned for the entirety of the film) follows his dead predecessor’s sat nav to an unknown location. It’s a clever touch from Harris’s modern wit, and translates excellently onto Polanski’s brooding screen.
A predominantly talky film, the script is acted with conviction by the cast. Capturing the polished sheen and glass-eyed smile of Blair’s smooth politician, Brosnan is an intriguing figure for McGregor’s cynical, boozy writer to investigate. Is he a cunning agent, a tough leader, or clueless puppet? The answer, it seems, lies in the securely-stored manuscript, which interests everyone from the sinister Paul Emmett (an on-form Tom Wilkinson) to the vocal former Foreign Secretary (Robert Pugh).
When the revelations do come, they won’t shock or surprise anyone. But even with the eventual plot strands steering towards the conventional, Roman Polanski never lets up on the conspiracy, generating a thriller in the vein of classic Hitchcock. The final shot – sheets of paper shuffling down a dim London street – is proof that, whatever the past hides, this is a master at work.
The Ghost is available to watch online on Amazon Prime Video as part of a £5.99 monthly subscription.