Monday, 26 April 2010

The Ghost (2010)

* * *

(Dir. Roman Polanski, 2010)

There is nothing so clever or incendiary here as to either educate or incense the British public about its former Primer Minister's "war crimes". And whether or not this is the point, the disgrace of Andrew Lang is an allegory perfectly poised but ordinarily executed.

Screenplay collaborators Polanski and Robert Harris have kept mostly faithful to Harris's sensationalist plot of Dan Brown proportions. A grinning, on-edge Pierce Brosnan is Lang, former PM, who believes he is being terrorised by the media and protesters (just for having fought terror). Ewan McGregor has been recruited as his nameless ghost-writer, arriving at Lang's escape-estate on an island, a ferry's ride from New York, to complete his memoirs. The American setting is a cross between Tracy, and Shutter, Island, while London, bookending the action, is surprisingly subtle. There's only a red bus and a black cab for character.

The previous ghost-writer drowned off the coast; it's referred to as either an accident or suicide throughout the movie, but it doesn't take lottery-winning guesswork to see where we're heading. McGregor becomes more than just a ghost-writer in Lang's unhomely household: his sense of curiosity and adventure overcome him. He goes wondering on a bicycle, a ferry and in Lang's BMW (YES, THAT'S A BMW; the logo lingers excruciatingly, until the car is actually given a voice and begins to advertise itself). It isn't the (often necessary) commercial ugliness that turns me off; it's the way product-placement can so often - as it has done with The Ghost - ironise and spoil a movie. For all Pierce Brosnan's Bond exploits, The Ghost is guilty of a more unnatural, ostentatious product-placement than any 007 film. Anyway, why were BMW so keen to advertise in the name of a loathsome politician? As the ghost-writer begins to grow suspicious of his predecessor's death and of Lang and his wife's (Olivia Williams) beginnings in politics, we know that the ghost-writer and the memoirs he has been left to finish will play a critical role.

From the director of Chinatown, this thriller is not untouched by splendor. Polanski plays a noir, CIA card (that old cliche) powerfully, as Tom Wilkinson's hard eyes are drafted in to keep us interested until a foolish denouement I want to, but shan't, spoil. At its pathetic or comic best, the vitriol in this film is quotable. The private response to the angry public, "It was hardly genocide", is a skillful demonstration of Lang's amazing simplicity and the feebleness of his position. When Lang sees a former cabinet-colleague condemning him on television, the former Prime Minister emerges from his sofa with an expletive - "You cheeky fuck!". Meanwhile when a protestor whose son has died "in one of Mr Lang's illegal wars" realises the ghost-writer is working for him, his utterance of the c-word as he walks by the writer's ear has quite the opposite effect to Chloe Monetz's expletive in Kick Ass; this man's anger becomes a reverberating, screen-swallowing chill, perhaps the only in the entire film.

Any attempt at tragedy in The Ghost is emotionally dumb: this story, its product-placement and timid transatlantic topography pander to that thoughtless, seen-it-all-before, thriller-ritual. There is nothing to impress upon the audience other than a fatheaded twist and several bursts of airport-waiting-room page-turning. Essentially - why make The Ghost Writer into a motion picture without either making fun of its sensationalist plot or attempting a more serious political statement? Well, Andrew Lang's talking BMW and the mis-promise of the trailer will answer: $ $ $. It's a fun game in an ethical maze of a playground.

Polanski question is an important afterthought. Here is an inconsistency that must be wrong: in 2006, the British release of an American treasure, Gone Baby Gone, was sensitively postponed because of its subject-matter and the recent abduction of Madeleine McCann. Now here is the convicted rapist of a thirteen-year old profiting from a sensationalist thriller he finished in jail. And yet guilt-edged curiosity demands I go and see this film, by a director who gave the world Chinatown and The Pianist. It's difficult, complicated. More complicated than The Ghost itself.)

No comments:

Post a Comment