23 April 2010
THE GHOST WRITER (Dir. Roman Polanski, 2010, France/Germany/UK) - 'If we meet any terrorists, I'll text you.'
With the furore enveloping Polanski’s possible extradition to face trial in America, his latest film The Ghost Writer has become a timely reminder of the way in which the oeuvre of an auteur as distinctive and respected as Polanski can offer a cathartic commentary on personal dilemmas that have characterised his private life. The Ghost Writer is an impressive political thriller that finds Polanski revisiting familiar thematic territory and along the way invoking the memory of films like Chinatown whilst articulating a prescient discourse on contemporary politics. A skillful adaptation of Robert Harris’s novel, the figure of ex British Prime Minister Adam Lang played with the appropriate degree of smugness by Pierce Brosnan is an unmistakable shadow of Tony Blair. Holed up in his isolated post-modern bunker on the shore of Martha’s Vineyard and vilified by the media at large, Adam Lang struggles to finish his memoirs. Help comes in the form of a ghost writer, played by Ewan McGregor, who is hired to assist Lang.
However, this being a film by Roman Polanski dedicated to the influence of Hitchcock, our ghost writer uncovers a sinister political conspiracy that involves Ruth Lang, wife of Adam Lang. Olivia Williams delivers what is a tour de force as the manipulative yet susceptible wife and it is her calculating nature that gives the film it’s particular edginess as a superior mainstream thriller. The sense of isolation, entrapment and that hypnotically pleasurable voyeuristic gaze which Polanski has made his own resurface throughout what is equally a very austere piece of cinema. In terms of its political discourse, the ideological engagement centres closely on aspects of Tony Blair’s legacy that has attracted widespread notoriety including the so called war on terror, the illegal detention and torture of suspected terrorists, the war in Iraq, and crimes against humanity. Some critics have compared The Ghost Writer to Frantic, a sharp Parisian thriller directed by Polanski in the eighties, which is another exercise in Hitchcockian delight but unlike the ending of Frantic which rings somewhat hollow, Polanski's latest triumphs in striking just the right note of discontent in the chilling denouement.