Director: Roman Polanski
Cast: Pierce Brosnan, Ewan McGregor, Olivia Williams, Kim Cattrall
Polanski's latest movie arrives amidst controversy surrounding his private life. Currently under house arrest, most people would be more interested in his own memoirs than that of fictional PM Adam Lang (Brosnan). And yet, despite the backlash against his unpleasant crime, the seasoned director has produced an expertly gripping thriller.
Based on Robert Harris's recent novel, which plays fast and loose with the trials of Tony and Cherie Blair, The Ghost sees Adam 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 parallel to the post-Iraq revelations, complete with the formidable PM's wife Ruth (Williams) standing overshadowed in the background. But it also resonates with the film-maker's own fate: there's a great moment when they discuss Adam avoiding certain countries because of The Hague's international jurisdiction.
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 skillfully 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 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 to 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, eerily channeling Robin Cook's ghost).
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 suspenseful movie 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.
Can you separate a man's work from his crime? Polanski's political thriller isn't his best, but his intent is clear: forget it, Roman, it's Chinatown.