The Ghost

The Ghost is based on the novel by Robert Harris of the same title. We thought it was a fine old-fashioned thriller; it reminded one of both Hitchcock and the paranoid thrillers of the 1970s. Directed by Roman Polanski, the film shows some remarkable similarities to his own personal life and the viewer can’t help wonder if the claustrophobia and paranoia which suffuses the film came out of his own experience of avoiding extradition. Still, it is best not read too much biography into these things.

The film tells the story of an unnamed ghost writer (played by Ewan McGregor) who has been hired to rewrite the memoirs of a former British Prime Minister, modelled on Tony Blair (played by Pierce Brosnan). The ghost writer is replacing a former aid to the PM, who had been helping with the book and had died under suspicious circumstances. Soon after the ghost writer arrives to an isolated compound on an island in New England where the PM is residing, news breaks out that the PM will be facing an investigation by the International Criminal Court in The Hague for war crimes. From this point on, the intrigue and tension slowly builds until some very dramatic final moments.
Throughout the film, Polanski’s considerable skills are on display. Regardless of what you think about him as a person, it is impossible to deny his talent as a filmmaker. As said earlier, the film reminds us of movies made by Hitchcock, especially the sense of suspense just beneath the surface and the psychological isolation of the characters. The score by Alexandre Desplat is also reminiscent of Bernard Herrman’s music used in a number of Hitchcock films.
Of the leading actors, I liked Ewan McGregor and Kim Cattrall (who played the Prime Minister’s personal assistant and mistress) most. The former has a nonchalant detachment that seems apt for his role and the latter is uptightly bitchy and yet sympathetic at the end. I also liked the Professor character (Professor Paul Emmett) convincingly played by Tom Wilkinson. His meeting with the ghost was one of the highlights.
Many of the film’s details are beautifully done: The modernist house where the bulk of the action takes place captures the isolation and paranoia of the characters. The location of the building on a largely deserted island also emphasises the incongruity of its existence with the surrounding.
Lastly, I paid much attention to the fate of the manuscript written by the PM and the first ghostwriter. It is interesting to see its physical deterioration (the initially pristine pages get marked and crumpled) as the film progresses, reflecting the PM’s deteriorating public image and life. The final scene in which the pages of this manuscript scatter down a London street is terrific and effective. It is also quite similar to one of the Liberal Democrat’s ads in which the broken promises of the other parties float around the country as discarded leaflets.

One thought on “The Ghost

  1. Jonathan said:

    “Wasn’t it brilliant?

    Going back to watch it a second time I realized how playful the film managed to be, how much humor there was, how much Polanski, so much in the Hitchcock mode, as you said, never takes himself or the film too seriously.
    “Considerable skills” indeed. Polanski can make a parked car seem ominous.

    And thanks for the link, oh most generous one.”


    “Also, interesting to note that in North America the film goes by the title The Ghost Writer, not The Ghost.”


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