|'eschews charm and snappy scripting in favour of a foreboding tone and imposing political rhetoric'|
Whilst watching The Ghost (strangely renamed from its US title, The Ghost Writer) the immediate film I thought of was this year's The Losers. Perhaps not the obvious cognitive leap but the link comes from a line by Chris Evans who, when told that The Losers' mission may well be a mission of the suicidal kind, replies 'well, that's not fore-bo-ding at all'. All that is a very long-winded way of pointing out that The Ghost has a preoccupation with the bad things that are about to happen around the corner. Everything screams it; from the isolated island location our protagonist (Ewan McGregor) finds himself on (complete with lighthouse and swinging hotel sign), to the news on the TV in the background, to the shadowy characters who appear out of nowhere and disappear just at fast - this is a film that wants you to know that if all is not well at the moment, it is nothing compared with what's about to come.
A recent winner at the European Film Awards, Polanski's thriller is everything we've come to expect from the ageing director; The Ghost is well shot and lit, methodical in its pacing and determined in its agenda. It does have an air of classic Hitchcock about it although by and large the film eschews Hitch's charm and snappy scripting in favour of the aforementioned foreboding tone and imposing political rhetoric.
Whilst it may have a satisfying, revelatory, conclusion, The Ghost's problem is how the script (written by Polanski and Robert Harris, whose novel of the same name The Ghost is based on) chooses to get there. McGregor's character investigates ex-Prime Minister Adam Lang (Pierce Brosnan) by way of an exposition-heavy meeting with a random man in a shack who just happens to know 'things' and a love affair with a character that appears to needlessly take up a decent chunk of the middle third. It's not that the The Ghost ever gets truly boring but it does flirt with the less interesting end of the thriller genre and all Polanski's lovely visuals may not be enough to keep everyone entirely invested in the conspiracy theory plot. A meeting with a potential informant (Tom Wilkinson) late on proves a case in point; with most of the shots of McGregor driving around to get there and back erased, the sequence could have been cut in half but it's not and as such, the film feels ponderous.
Eventually, The Ghost becomes your atypical 'it's not bad, it's just not good' film, with elements countering one another symmetrically - the performances are good but the balance is off (Brosnan is too marginalised); it looks great but far too much time is spent looking at how great it is; the story is fine but the end over glorifies it. The final shot will probably divide audiences but Harris talks on the Blu-ray extras about why it was chosen and regardless of emotional reaction it does work although, in a film where the good is intrinsically linked to the bad, there is a nagging feeling that the film doesn't earn all the emotional reactions it seems intent on producing and the feeling of foreboding may extend to the viewer's reaction, as well as to the eventual outcomes.
'a beautifully directed film, spectacularly acted and tensely paced' - Hot Dogs In The Dark, 4.5/5