There’s been an acid tinge to some US reviews of Roman Polanski’s 18th film, raising the spectre of the director’s current misfortunes – as if they have any legitimate critical bearing on The Ghost.
But it cuts both ways – on this side of the Atlantic, reviewers have been inclined to give the beleaguered filmmaker a free pass. Take Polanski’s recent Best Director win at the Berlin Film Festival with a pinch of salt, merely a show of solidarity for a deeply respected European auteur.
Bottom line? The Ghost is a perfectly passable political suspenser with enough Romanesque flair to satiate admirers. It’s a cut above his patchy previous effort Oliver Twist, but never troubles the heights reached by his finest portraits of spinechilling corruption and malaise, Chinatown and Rosemary’s Baby.
Sourced from Robert Harris’ Tony Blair-blasting fiction, the eponymous ‘ghost’ is writer Ewan McGregor, who natters in a nasal monotone that irks, but also suits Polanski’s muted approach.
McGregor has a month to fix the memoirs of Pierce Brosnan’s Blair-alike ex-PM Adam Lang, holing up in a bunkerstyle beach house (supposedly Martha’s Vineyard, but obviously not) that comes under siege from protestors after reports link Lang to Anglo-American collusion on offshore torture.
As McGregor comes under the spell of Lang’s influential wife (Olivia Williams) and turns more muckraker than ghost writer, Polanski seems more interested in mundanities.
At times, The Ghost plays as grey as the eternally drizzling skies outside, its paranoia too mild, its thunderclap revelations landing with as much impact as pages loading from a Google search (McGregor’s primary investigative tool).
It’s left up to Williams to generate sparks – her blunt politician’s wife should register in next year’s awards chatter if The Ghost lingers in the memory long enough. That’s one big ‘if’, though…
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The Ghost has all the craftsmanship you’d expect from Polanski, plus a superb turn from Olivia Williams. Yet it’s too static to get the blood pumping, ultimately feeling like a film made by a man whose most exhilarating work is behind him.