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.