The Ghost

Film

Thrillers

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Time Out rating:

<strong>Rating: </strong><span class='lf-avgRating'>4</span>/5

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<strong>Rating: </strong><span class='lf-avgRating'>3</span>/5
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Time Out says

Posted: Tue Apr 13 2010

Roman Polanski’s last two films, ‘Oliver Twist’ and ‘The Pianist’ were solemn affairs, which is unsurprising, considering their stories. But there’s often been a playful, comic side to his films, whatever their serious airs. Take a film like ‘Frantic’, his 1988 dash around Paris with a frazzled Harrison Ford and a wild Emmanuelle Seigner, and you can almost hear the giggles behind the Hitchcockian curtains. And 1992’s ‘Bitter Moon’ couldn’t have been more ridiculously teasing in its charting of relationships between men and women. Even 1976’s ‘The Tenant’, a spooky study in racial tension and mental disintegration, gave us Polanski wearing lipstick and a dress. There’s little more blackly comic than that.

The sniggers from the wings continue with ‘The Ghost’, an adaptation of Robert Harris’s bold and enjoyable novel that balances political reality with trashy fantasy and which was inspired by the former journalist’s disappointment with Tony Blair. In Harris’s hands, Blair becomes Adam Lang (Pierce Brosnan), a slick but empty former prime minister facing trial for war crimes and hiding from the public glare in the United States. The similarities between Blair and Lang are pointed – but the differences are enough that Harris and Polanski get away with placing familiar characters in a tight and tense plot more wild than the dreary reality of high politics. The dreariness is left to the weather.

Starting in a wet London, we watch as a green writer (Ewan McGregor, better than usual but struggling with an Estuary accent) is hired to finish Lang’s memoirs. The last chap died on the job, so there’s an ominous mood in the air as he travels to an isolated, modern beach house in a windswept Martha’s Vineyard and finds an air of deep discord. Lang’s wife, Ruth (Olivia Williams, styled with nods to Cherie Blair), is a quietly forceful but sad figure behind the scenes, while Lang’s relationship with his assistant (Kim Cattrall) is causing tension. When Lang flies to Washington to try to rescue his reputation, his ghost begins to uncover secrets which contradict the Langs’ version of their past and put him in increasing danger.

Unlike, say, ‘The Queen’, which delighted in the ordinariness of what goes on behind powerful doors, Harris and Polanski delight in pushing their story beyond the bounds of reality – but never so far that the the film has no relevance. While Brosnan’s rictus performance is to be grinned at, the fabric of the film is grey, heavy and steely, demanding that we share the ghost’s fear and take his peril seriously. As a thriller, the film is cold and lean, and the photography and design convey a strong sense of isolation and a world gone wrong. There are terrific scenes, not least one that involves a sat-nav guiding the action, and the film’s moody opening and closing scenes are as striking as the image Polanski creates of a weather-beaten coastline seen through the glass wall of Lang’s office.

There’s no escaping some laughable plot turns. Can you really unravel the CIA via Google? But the thread of black humour that runs throughout the film compensates for its occasional moments of madness. It’s a film just silly enough to be taken deadly seriously.
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Release details

UK release:

Fri Mar 19, 2010

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<strong>Rating: </strong><span class='lf-avgRating'>0</span>/5

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LiveReviews|26
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miriam heyburn

Agree with the photoshot pic of Emmerson. Am I wrong in thinking that the Cherie character was in fact a CIA agent attached to NWO, and that the PA was in fact his partner? Several comments point to this, although I was so bored I can';t remember what they were.

Bag of Angry Peas

Simply a piece of ill-considered and poorly-executed, almost laughable trash. I purchased Harris' book for a quid and felt ripped-off. Within minutes of finishing I had forgotten the plot entirely and sometime later was saddened when I heard it was to be made into a movie. 'Maybe a screenwriter will be able to turn this into something good' I thought. Seeing it this evening on C4, I was further saddened to discover that they hadn't. There are uncanny similarities between the book and the film, the first of which is that they both represent (I quote) 'a cure for insomnia'. In the book the narrative is tedious, the dialogue limp and the characterisations as real, dynamic and exciting as an interesting accountant. Someone above compared the movie to a film student's work. Any student producing this is deserved of a 'D' followed by the red-penned footnote: 'Could do better.' My advice is not to not watch it, but to try and block the existence of both book and film out of your mind forever.

Peter Kellow

Most of what has been written is true, except I found this film very enjoyable. Love the atmosphere of the desolate modern house, all the actors were good and Kim Cattral gorgeous. The plot moves along nicely and is enough to hang the incidental joys of this film on, viz: the flat grey light, the pace, the sense of the location. I have not enjoyed any Polanski film since Cul-de-sac, probably because he needs a touch of black humour to be Polanski. The music and pace are integrally part of the film much as a Claude Chabrol film. The aesthetic pleasures of this film make it one I can watch over and over again. If like me you find the second by second experience of the script far more important than plot you won't see the "faults". Enjoy.

Peter Kellow

Most of what has been written is true, except I found this film very enjoyable. Love the atmosphere of the desolate modern house, all the actors were good and Kim Cattral gorgeous. The plot moves along nicely and is enough to hang the incidental joys of this film on, viz: the flat grey light, the pace, the sense of the location. I have not enjoyed any Polanski film since Cul-de-sac, probably because he needs a touch of black humour to be Polanski. The music and pace are integrally part of the film much as a Claude Chabrol film. The aesthetic pleasures of this film make it one I can watch over and over again. If like me you find the second by second experience of the script far more important than plot you won't see the "faults". Enjoy.

Nick

Time Out just astoundingly wrong on this one. A couple of hours wasted. A great idea for a film, but shockingly poor execution. What was perhaps meant to be a slow-burning build-up of tension was just ponderous, inept and hard to swallow. Poor script, lousy direction, no sign of an editor on the crew. Brosnan's mid-atlantic accent not a small detail for a British prime minister. Ewan's working class scribbler accent all over the place. Scottish would have worked... A couple of flashes of competence in the staging of the final few minutes of the film, but really not worth waiting for. Really not.

John Shields

The only conspiracy worth talking about with regard to this conspiracy 'thriller' involves the generally good reviews that the film has received. To start with the positives. Great soundtrack, especially a bass rumbling that, though a little obvious, does a great job of racketing up the tension. In a theatre. The performance of McGregor also has a lot to commend it (compared to the others in the film) - he pulls off the Harrison Ford-like 'ordinary guy having one hell of day' with a few Grant-isms so you know he's a Brit. Without this performance, the film would certainly have fallen apart completely. Ok, so that's the semi-positives over. I'm going to ignore Bronsan, who was poor, but has such a minor part he's not really worth talking about. Instead, I'm going to launch myself at three different things: 1. Olivia Williams. If you have to play the crying crocodile role and play the liar in the early part of the film when everyone thinks your a victim on the good side, then there is one inveterate rule: you HAVE to act as if this weren't the case. You have to presume that the character is an excellent liar and trick the audience along with the other characters in the film. Taken at face value, her acting in the first part of the film was SO bad, that it was abundantly clear that she was acting badly on purpose. Bang goes the 'denouement'. Poor storytelling. 2. Despite an undoubted sense of tension at times, at others Polanski seems to have taken leave of his senses - protagonist killed off screen by a tragic deus ex machina with his key documentary evidence scattered to the wind on the street in front of the camera?!?! Come ON! This is not the 60s. We live in an age of sophisticated artistic cinematography. Some of this film is worthy of an A-level student. And not a good one. 3. Final (major) gripe - the storyline is just abysmal. The bad-guys are not developed enough for us to care; the CIA plot is too preposterous for the relatively ordinary circumstances of the rest of the film, and too complex for the kind of characterisation needed for a proper thriller - if you're going to have storylines like this, then hand the clipboard to Emmerich. The film also relies far too heavily on what the makers supposed to be the inherent interest of the Blair-Iraq story - misguided given the lack of a proper part given to Brosnan, and misguided given that, if the majority of people had any real interest in the goings on of the Blair government, British political history over the last decade would have been very different indeed. It's just not that interesting. Overall - poor, imbalanced, and rather dull.

GoggleEyes

The final scene of this film elicited a weary puff of laughter at how such an awful film can be so highly praised by so many. Ewan McGregor and Kim Catrill are as wooden as Thunderbirds puppets, the story is just ludicrous and, as stated above, the facts being found out via Google (second search result no less) is about as lazy as one can get in terms of plot development. Truly dire.

wayne

OMG some people have serious issues here. You need to learn to separte the man's art from his private life. Just becoz he abused a young gal doesnt mean the film is bad! get a life. Stunning movie.

usman latif khawaja

the same old conspiracy theory ,with borrowed frames from orson welles classics ,and a flagging narrative -only brosnan was watchable while ewan was a total washout and the ending was so silly i was unable to even laugh -and there was no need to get ewan into bed with olivia williams -but than ewan likes to strip in every movie -it is a habitual family tic - polanski better fold up as days of -chinatown and tess are long over -even bitter moon is a classic compared to this mediocre scam on blair -bush blunders -i am sic of iraq war and movies as well and i hope so are others -can the blair ghost please be sent to hell and good riddance -amen

Brian Petts Wood

Thoroughly enjoyed this thriller- mood/photogrpahy/location/direction and most of the acting were spot on and made it a really worthwhile trip to the cinema. Would recommend

Horatio

I really enjoyed reading Harris' book - it was gripping and well above average throughout. However, the ending which was left to the final paragraph bordered on brilliance. I went to watch the film particularly keen to see how this aspect was handled and although the rest of the film was thoroughly entertaining, the ending was totally botched. I was surprised to learn on reading these reviews that the author collaborated on the scriptwriting which leaves me even more dissapointed. Those that have commented on the ending to the film are right - it was very poor particularly if you had read the book. I can't personally think how the "true" ending could have been handled on the screen but then I'm not a Polanski or a Harris.

Tina

Found this very disappointing - some of the acting, accents and scenes were pretty poor considering those involved but, worst, the plot was neither plausible nor engaging enough.

DV

Tense, humourous, Hitchcockian. More of them please! And KC is very sexy for her age... Tick, VG.

Martha

I wonder if you meant to post to another film, Lorraine? This one’s barely two hours long. I thought it wasn’t bad. Kim Catrall was on the radio talking about her role in this movie – I can’t think what she adds that another accomplished actress couldn’t. I appreciate she’s not supposed to be Miss Moneypenny, but ... Ewan McGregor’s accent isn’t as bad as several people have made out, and his acting's good. Olivia Williams seems to be the star of this movie – very good acting, though perhaps more swearing than was necessary for the emotions and circumstances being portrayed. I loved the scenery, and the house in which it was mainly shot.

Lorraine

Yawn! I managed (barely) to stay awake during this snail paced assault on the film indistry just long enough to scoff at the inadequacies of what should have been on paper a great thriller. Bad accents, rubbish dialogue and a laughable climax masquerading as a devious twist all contributed to this 2 and a half hour warble robbing me of my will to live.

Violetta

Adam Lang is an ex-premier of the UK who's autobiography is destined for the remainders list unless a newly recruited ghost writer can breathe some life into the turgid prose. The ghost writer is given a London street accent the like of which you'll never hear on a London street - it's a strangled mangled Essex side emulation of a young Michael Caine that cringes every nerve. The ghost writer has total access to the Lang's; who're holed up in the publisher's Martha's Vineyard beach pad (actually shot on Sylt Island, Germany cos Roman doesn't like the US these days). with a mix of round the clock CIA and UK security protection. Lang has been a good friend to the USA - the plot revolves around why this is the case - with several double blinds along the way the intrigue evolves at a nice pace throughout.

Dicky

The month or two post Oscars always seem to be devoid of decent thrillers, yet we’ve had “Girl with the Dragon Tattoo� and this. I wouldn’t exactly say “The Ghost� had me on the edge of my seat, but it was tense, very well scripted, and very well acted. Brosnan and Williams are excellent in their Phony and Zippy roles. Polanski hasn’t lost his eye for superb settings and excellent cinematography. As I don’t want to spoil it for those who haven’t seen it, I’ll say no more. . Literally every seat was taken at tonight’s first showing at Haymarket, so don’t leave getting your ticket to the last minute. Highly recommended. 4 stars.

Afterglow

Johnny P, maybe the film was making an obvious point i.e. it’s not about finding information or the truth (if there is one truth anyway) on Google it’s about putting the pieces of the puzzle together. In any case, I’d like to see how you’d expect the writer to discover the truth in a convincing way, maybe accidentally stumble upon a document marked ‘top secret’? As for McGregor’s accent this surely does not make the film any less enjoyable? Or is this a case of bringing politics into film-making? In any case the film had all the right elements of a political thriller. It keeps you alert and curious to see what happens next. There are many twists and turns and although the ending came a bit out of the blue the film maintains a dignity and a continuous shock factor throughout. One of the best scenes was the one of the gardener trying to collect the scattered leaves in vain – pretty much like ‘ghost’ tried to do solve the ‘mystery’. I think Hitchock would have probably enjoyed watching this.

JohnnyP

Whaaat? C'mon people! Plot spoilers ahead: I know this is mostly to be taken tongue in cheek, and I'm a big, big fan of Hitch... Why are Brits working covertly for the CIA? Is there a new Cold War no-one's told me about? And as Calhoun points out, McGregor's character finds all he needs to know on Google, complete with video. That's stupid! Once he goes to see Tom Wilkinson's character, game over - the CIA would be all over him! Duh! Why would he want to let Ruth Lang know what he knows on a slip of paper, there and then? To be a smart-ass? Why? If they were going to rub McGregor's character out, why do it in public? Daft! Why does a number 9 double decker bus keep whizzing back and forth in the London sections? Why is the dead guy's stuff left intact in the house? If he knew what he knew, they'd be all over that stuff. Silly! It's not wry, it's a sub-standard Tintin adventure, complete with quiff. The dog is the plot. To quote the master, 'it's only a movie', but at least give us something intelligible. This plays like a dumb airport-read. Oh yeah, it was adapted from one! Two stars: one for cinematography, t'other for Eli Wallach.

Sutton

An enjoyable, though flawed movie, particularly the ending. The dialogue is places was awful and McGregor's English accent was poor, let him do his Scottish one - he can at least do that one!

L.O.Brian

May contain spoilers to the movie, “The Ghost Writer� Some may believe Polanski’s movie "The Ghost Writer" bears no resemblance to reality, or his current situation.

 In the movie two ghost writers, face the same corruption.

The first perishes under strange circumstances much as Polanski did in America due to Judicial Corruption at the Santa Monica Courthouse. And just as there are two ghosts in the movie, so too are there two victims of Judicial corruption in reality.

 The second victim suffers police brutality by undocumented White County of Los Angeles Sheriffs Deputies, for reporting Police cover up of her sexual assault complaint against a Santa Monica College photography teacher.

 The same Judge, for overseeing the police brutality in his courtroom, was promoted to the California Court of Appeals on police brutality day, just as Jay S. Bybee who signed the Torture Memos for the Bush administration was promoted to the 9th Circuit Federal Appeal Court.

 As Polanski plus another have been victimized by Judicial Misconduct in the same Santa Monica Courthouse, Polanski’s claim is substantiated because there is a Judicial double standard for sexual assault cases depending on who the perpetrator is:

 Roman Polanski 

 or 
 A State employee, who then is assisted by corrupt police & the Court itself. 

 The second victim sued in Federal District Court but got slowly tortured by Los Angeles County & Judge Jay S. Bybee's January 11th 2006 decision.

 Not sure if the prognosis is rosy? Polanski’s movie "The Ghost Writer" warns viewers to not to seek truth, or expose political facts that Officials want covered up, because if you do, you may end up as a ghost.

L.O.Brian

May contain spoilers to the movie, “The Ghost Writer� Some may believe Polanski’s movie "The Ghost Writer" bears no resemblance to reality, or his current situation.

 In the movie two ghost writers, face the same corruption.

The first perishes under strange circumstances much as Polanski did in America due to Judicial Corruption at the Santa Monica Courthouse. And just as there are two ghosts in the movie, so too are there two victims of Judicial corruption in reality.

 The second victim suffers police brutality by undocumented White County of Los Angeles Sheriffs Deputies, for reporting Police cover up of her sexual assault complaint against a Santa Monica College photography teacher.

 The same Judge, for overseeing the police brutality in his courtroom, was promoted to the California Court of Appeals on police brutality day, just as Jay S. Bybee who signed the Torture Memos for the Bush administration was promoted to the 9th Circuit Federal Appeal Court.

 As Polanski plus another have been victimized by Judicial Misconduct in the same Santa Monica Courthouse, Polanski’s claim is substantiated because there is a Judicial double standard for sexual assault cases depending on who the perpetrator is:

 Roman Polanski 

 or 
 A State employee, who then is assisted by corrupt police & the Court itself. 

 The second victim sued in Federal District Court but got slowly tortured by Los Angeles County & Judge Jay S. Bybee's January 11th 2006 decision.

 Not sure if the prognosis is rosy? Polanski’s movie "The Ghost Writer" warns viewers to not to seek truth, or expose political facts that Officials want covered up, because if you do, you may end up as a ghost.

Jasmine

The movie, The Ghostwriter is a captivating Polanski-Hitchcock fusion. The scenes and actors are excellently directed by Roman Polanski, a man who knows people, has lived a life in all its intense and wonderful highs, yet also has known its deepest lows, but somehow still has managed to find his way up again & humor throughout it all, with his own internal Triumph of the Will running to keep him vital. The Ghostwriter is extremely amusing and fun, set against a political backdrop of torture and war crimes, with some parallels to the director's own life, as well as to political events in reality. Coincidentally the same day Film maker Roman Polanski, (under house arrest in Switzerland and fighting extradition to the United States) won the best director award at the Berlin film festival for the political thriller The Ghost Writer, the Bush administration lawyers John Yoo and Jay Bybee were exonerated by the U.S. Department of Justice of any misconduct for writing the Torture Memos , making it a win win situation for everyone, apart from those who were tortured in reality, and those who may be tortured in the future.

Jasmine

The movie, The Ghostwriter is a captivating Polanski-Hitchcock fusion. The scenes and actors are excellently directed by Roman Polanski, a man who knows people, has lived a life in all its intense and wonderful highs, yet also has known its deepest lows, but somehow still has managed to find his way up again & humor throughout it all, with his own internal Triumph of the Will running to keep him vital. The Ghostwriter is extremely amusing and fun, set against a political backdrop of torture and war crimes, with some parallels to the director's own life, as well as to political events in reality. Coincidentally the same day Film maker Roman Polanski, (under house arrest in Switzerland and fighting extradition to the United States) won the best director award at the Berlin film festival for the political thriller The Ghost Writer, the Bush administration lawyers John Yoo and Jay Bybee were exonerated by the U.S. Department of Justice of any misconduct for writing the Torture Memos , making it a win win situation for everyone, apart from those who were tortured in reality, and those who may be tortured in the future.