What has Roman ever done for us?

Surprised, but pleased, to find The Ghost showing at the Curzon Soho, ostensibly an arthouse cinema. This film felt like a big, glossy multiplex thriller to me, and now I’ve seen it, despite some Hitchcock references and a director with a certain cachet, it feels even more like one. Roman Polanski was arrested midway through production, adding a certain historical frisson to the finished product (it’s about a British Prime Minister in exile, whiling away his retirement in Cape Cod rather than face the legal music back home in Britain), but for all the director’s reputation, he’s not an arthouse director any more, if he was once. He’s a smart director, and a great image-maker, but on the evidence of The Ghost, adapted from Blair refugee Robert Harris’s novel, he’s still fundamentally a showman.

The film’s been getting some fulsome props, but I fear it is a victim of hype and overcompensatory flattery. It’s not at all bad. Some of the thriller elements are superb. And Alexandre Desplat’s Herrmann-esque score is a corker. But it’s also clunky and silly in parts, and a better director would have sorted his lead actors out – encouraged them to do better accents where applicable (Ewen McGregor’s London accent is spirited, but not convincing; Pierce Brosnan sounded like Pierce Brosnan, whatever that is now), and perhaps pruned some of the more “written” lines from the script (“They can’t drown two ghost writers – you’re not kittens”, “40,000 years of the English language and there’s still no word to describe that relationship” – I’m paraphrasing the last one, but it was not far off being that bad).

I don’t mind a melodrama but this one was so blatantly rooted in reality it jars with what might be flattered as camp: it’s about Tony Blair, all smiles and bonhomie, being fantasy-arrested for war crimes in the wishful brain of Harris, while Cherie plays Lady Macbeth and an imagined conspiracy that goes back to Cambridge unravels by, hmmm, looking it up on the Internet. With CNN on the telly and echoes of the news everywhere, it’s tough to make all this verite gel with preposterous trysts and cartoon bad weather and mysterious old men in shacks giving out convenient clues and characters bumping into other characters at key moments despite being on some fictional Cape Cod in a hellish storm. And if you’re going to allow your back projection to look like back projection, you’ve got to make it more obvious, I think. Otherwise it just looks like iffy back projection, and not a sly homage.

Reviewers have been terribly kind to The Ghost, perhaps as a kind of grateful wave to Polanski for Chinatown and Rosemany’s Baby and Repulsion. (I love those films too, by the way. But it’s more like Frantic than any of the above.) I wouldn’t steer anyone away from it, I would just say approach with caution and a pinch of salt.

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10 thoughts on “What has Roman ever done for us?

  1. Nope. It may not go on the very short list with Showgirls, Duplicity, Sherlock Holmes and Crank 2. (I am too mean to leave without getting my money’s worth, as a rule!)

  2. I think you are being a bit harsh here Andrew.

    That drowning kitten line actually got one of the biggest laughs of film.

    Yes, McGregors accent was shit and googling the answer to the mystery was a bit far fetched but all in all it was a very entertaining and stylish movie that was at the classier end of the genre.

    Maybe you have been spending too much time at the Curzon?

  3. As someone said – googling the solution would have been fine, if it hadn’t been the first result!

    I quite enjoyed it, but then I like Polanski’s less self-concious work – I’m a big fan of The Ninth Gate, although that’s partly because I loved both the spoof Hammer Horror approach and the rather brilliant adaptation of an unfilmable book.

    The Ghost was much less of a challenge in that respect, and as a thriller it works pretty well with some genuinely tense sequences. And we laughed at the kittens line as well.

  4. What’s with the persistent media pandering to a child drugger and rapist? If Peter Sutcliffe became a celebrated director, would the same rules apply?

  5. Dara, I object to the implication of your line, “Maybe you’ve been spending too much time at the Curzon.” Do you mean I have been watching too many arthouse movies? They showed Kick-Ass and Alice In Wonderland recently, both of which I enjoyed. (I like the comfort and the quality of the Curzon cinemas – but a nice latte and more leg room won’t make me like a film!)

    The reason I was disappointed by The Ghost was the over-the-top praise it received in the papers. I expected something much better, that’s all. I hope you are not accusing me of some kind of cinematic snobbery? My favourite film is The Poseidon Adventure, as I believe I have established before.

  6. By the by, didnt realised you walked out of Showgirls. I did as well although now it is a ridiculous guilty pleasure. Did you get as far as the swimming pool sex scene, flapping like a dolphin? Its lovely stuff. (My only other walkout is Spice World).

    Back to the Ghost. I saw it recently and it left me a bit cold. It had a few tense or interesting scenes but I did not think it held together very well and it didnt grab me at all. When it was over I thought ‘Oh .. that it?’

    I thought the film bore no resemblance to the spirit of the reviews I had been reading all week.

  7. Cinematic snobbery would be an unfair accusation for you Andrew. Give it a few years though. I really would hate for you to succumb to curse of the movie reviewer.

    Maybe you would have done better to see the film fresh like I did rather then have the reviews cloud your judgement. Admittedly this might be difficult in your line of work.

    We will have to agree to differ on this one i think.

  8. Nice one bensix, didnt know anything about this. I have a feeling it might not be in my best interets to watch this trailer at work!

    It stars original actress Rena Riffel. Have a quick look at her IMBD entry. It would be fair to say she has been typecast judging my the titles of films/tv she has appeared it. Something called “Breast Men” jumped out at me.

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