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The Ghost (aka The Ghost Writer)

April 19, 2010

The GhostRoman Polanski’s latest film, The Ghost (known in the US as The Ghost Writer), has been accumulating a healthy stack of glowing reviews since winning the Best Director prize at the Berlin film festival, with most reviewers offering some variation on the statements “Polanski’s most enjoyable film in years” and “An intelligent, tense political thriller”. After watching it on Saturday, I can’t help but feel that they must have been watching some fucking awful thrillers recently if this one stands out as exemplary.

Perhaps I just had overly high expectations; Polanski made Chinatown after all, as well as a slew of other excellent films (Knife in the Water, Repulsion and Macbeth are my personal favourites), and the premise of this film seemed to have some personal resonance for him, as well as offering the opportunity for him to stick it to the USA. It starts with an excellent opening scene, an abandoned 4×4 on a passenger ferry and a body washed up on a gloomy beach, but until the final scene there is little of the cinematic panache that I would have expected. Ewan McGregor plays a ghost writer assigned to add some gloss to the memoirs of a thinly-veiled Tony Blair surrogate after his predecessor dies in mysterious circumstances. Its not hard to guess how the film progresses from here; McGregor eventually manages to puzzle together the fate of his predecessor, before a final twist that is revealed in one of the most ham-fisted ways possible.

The plot clanks mechanically along, hanging most of the main revelations off hooks that are very familiar when they are not entirely risible (such as McGregor’s unquestioning acceptance of information discovered via some pretty cursory Googling). The performances are mostly OK, aside from some slightly wonky accents. Only Olivia Williams as the highly intelligent but slippery wife of Pierce Brosnan’s former PM could be considered as putting in a ‘good’ performance. Brosnan’s character seems barely more than a sketch (but perhaps this is the point), and most of the allusions to real political events are a little too on-the -nose. Thrillers can often get away with most of these things if they are directed with zest, or have some zippy dialogue, but The Ghost has neither of these things in enough quantity to lift it above the level of moderately diverting.

Overall, I left the cinema feeling pretty underwhelmed. I found The Ghost to be a pretty unambitious, mass-market thriller; entertaining enough if you happened to catch it on TV, but certainly not worth the fulsome praise that has been heaped on it.

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One Comment leave one →
  1. Paragraph Film Reviews permalink
    April 26, 2010 10:12 am

    I thought the story was pretty bog-standard but the direction and way it unfolded was pretty sweet. Definitely Polanski’s finest film in a loooong time.

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