The Ghost
4/5   US title: The Ghost Writer
dir Roman Polanski
scr Robert Harris, Roman Polanski
prd Robert Benmussa, Alain Sarde
with Ewan McGregor, Pierce Brosnan, Kim Cattrall, Olivia Williams, Tom Wilkinson, Eli Wallach, Timothy Hutton, James Belushi, Robert Pugh, Jon Bernthal, Tim Preece, Marianne Graffam
release Ger/US 19.Feb.10,
UK 16.Apr.10
10/Germany 2h08
The Ghost
Stormy night: Brosnan and McGregor

cattrall williams wilkinson

30th Shadows Awards
Olivia Williams

Directing Prize:
R E V I E W    B Y    R I C H    C L I N E
The Ghost Tightly wound and told without much fuss, this political thriller is captivating and often quite tense even though it doesn't seem to have much visual panache. But Polanski's fiendishly clever and extremely subtle touch is in every frame.

When a successful British ghost-writer (McGregor) is hired to clean up the memoirs of former Prime Minister Adam Lang (Brosnan), he can't quite believe the large paycheque heading his way. He soon relocates to an isolated island home in America to work with Lang, his wife (Williams) and assistant (Cattrall), but it quickly becomes clear that something fishy's going on here. And maybe the scandalous news reports, about Lang's approval of torture in the War on Terror, are missing the real story.

Yes, the film is eerily current, with a premise that feels torn straight from today's headlines, especially with the Blair-echoing central figure. On the other hand, this relevance is essentially mere subtext to a twisty tale of intrigue that feels just like the paperback potboiler it's based on. As the characters prowl around each other dropping hints that something sinister is going on, we are constantly forced to adjust our expectations.

In the end, the plot is a bit of a joke at the Blairs' expense, but it's still thoroughly engaging. McGregor and Brosnan are marvellously prickly characters who find an uneasy camaraderie when they're not raising each others' hackles. And strong one-scene side roles for Wilkinson, Wallach and Pugh add loads of texture and interest. But the real star here is Williams, who delivers another remarkably subtle, layered performance that only gets better as the story continues.

All of this is expertly controlled by Polanski with a Hitchcockian grip on every detail, from the eye-catching production design to the swirling gloom of both the darkly clouded skies and Alexandre Desplat's suggestive score. Much of this will pass under the radar of general audiences who will see this as a fairly straightforward thriller without too much action. But Polanski is having a great time infusing the film with wit and innuendo that will keep more alert viewers smiling as he quietly plays with--and undermines--the tabloid-style plot.

cert 15 themes, language, violence 16.Feb.09

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© 2010 by Rich Cline, Shadows on the Wall