| Oscar-winning director Roman Polanski (“The Pianist,” “Chinatown” and “Rosemary’s Baby”) places the emphasis on mood, atmosphere and dialogue in this creepy political conspiracy thriller. He recently received the Silver Bear for Best Director at the Berlin Film Festival for this movie.
Former BBC TV reporter and political columnist Robert Harris based the screenplay on his 2007 novel “The Ghost.”
A gifted author (Ewan McGregor from “Big Fish” and “Moulin Rouge!”), who is never named, is hired to complete the memoirs of Adam Lang (Pierce Brosnan from “Mamma Mia!” and “The Matador”), the controversial former British Prime Minister. The assignment became available when his ghost writing predecessor died under mysterious circumstances. It was ruled an accidental drowning after the body washed ashore.
The replacement ghost flies from London to Lang’s gated oceanfront residence on an island off the Eastern seaboard of the United States. Filming actually took place on the German island of Sylt made to look like Martha’s Vineyard in Massachusetts.
The rough draft of the manuscript is kept under lock and key and the new scribe is required to sign a confidentiality agreement. He meets Ruth Lang (Olivia Williams from “An Education” and “The Sixth Sense”), the hardened wife, and Amelia Bly (Kim Cattrall from “Sex and the City”), the personal assistant.
Peace protestors and a swarm of reporters arrive a day later when Lang is accused of illegally seizing suspected terrorists and turning them over to the CIA for torture and interrogation. The ghost’s own life is placed in jeopardy when he traces Lang’s political career back to his days as a student at Cambridge.
Polanski attempts to imitate Alfred Hitchcock by mixing humor with suspense. Several lines of dialogue expressed by the ghost about the first draft of the autobiography are also appropriate for sizing up the movie. “It is a cure for insomnia. All the words are there. They are just in the wrong order. ” The movie is unevenly paced and takes too long to kick into high gear. The sluggish slow burn approach tries your patience. There is very little in the way of action sequences to provide momentum. You may find yourself looking at your watch after about 90 minutes.
The standout performance is a cameo by 94-year-old Eli Wallach. Brosnan looks dashing in the sartorial splendor of a designer suit and tie. McGregor is bland and shows little emotion. It is hard to work up any sort of rooting interest for his protagonist character. Williams is seductively appealing, possessing all the brains in the family. Cattrall is merely eye candy.
Minor roles are played by James Belushi, Timothy Hutton and Tom Wilkinson. A Google search on the Internet and a GPS navigational system are key components in solving the mystery.
Polanski finished editing the movie while under house arrest in Gstaad, Switzerland. He is currently fighting extradition to California to face sentencing after pleading guilty more than three decades ago to having sex with a minor.
Harris has acknowledged that the similarities between Tony Blair and Adam Lang, Cherie Blair and Ruth Lang, and Halliburton and Hatherton are clearly intentional.
This movie (now playing exclusively at the Glenwood Arts) doesn’t hold a candle to “The Parallax View” (1974) and “Three Days of the Condor” (1975). They both qualify as political thrillers with heart-pounding suspense along with clever twists and turns.
Keith Cohen "The Movie Guy"