THE GHOSTWRITER. Starring Ewan McGregor, Pierce Brosnan, Kim Cattrall, James Belushi, Timothy Hutton and Tom Wilkinson. Directed by Roman Polanski. 128mins. Rated MA 15+ (strong coarse language).
Robert Harris is a best-selling writer whose conspiracy books include Fatherland and Archangel. He has collaborated here with Roman Polanski in adapting his novel, Ghost, for the screen and has said that in refining, cutting and selecting for the screenplay, the film has some better features than the book. Whether that is true or not, The Ghost is an absorbing contemporary thriller with fascinating political suggestions and implications.
First of all, it is not about Tony Blair. Well, not quite. Harris has said that he had the basic idea before Labour came to power in the UK in 1997. But, with comments about Tony Blair and war crimes in the aftermath of the invasion of Iraq, Harris had found a situation to build his novel on. In fact, the screenplay becomes quite explicit at times about the repercussions of the invasion of Iraq for the British and the Americans and the role of the CIA.
Harris has also expressed an admiration for the films of Alfred Hitchcock with their ordinary and central character sometimes caught up in a world of intrigue and international espionage. This film can be described as in the vein of Hitchcock suspense. Roman Polanski showed himself a director in this genre with his 1988 Frantic.
Opening with the seemingly accidental death of the ghost writer of the former British Prime Minister's memoirs, the film quickly introduces Ewan McGregor as the writer being courted to revise and rewrite the memoirs. Ewan McGregor has proven himself quite an engaging screen presence in both serious and comic films and is able to take the weight of the film, appearing in every sequence.
Needless to say, there are complications, twists and some sinister chases and a writer, not used to being in this kind of danger, having to show bits of action and heroism that surprise him.
Pierce Brosnan has proven that he has an acting life after James Bond (well, not a sining one after Mamma Mia) and is very good as the irascible and genial former prime minister. Kim Cattral has a more serious role than usual as his minder and Olivia Williams relishes her role as the wife, a hard woman, strong, with a touch of jealousy but a power behind the throne.
The film is also enhanced by a number of important and effective cameos: Tom Wilkinson as a professor, Timothy Hutton as the official attorney, James Belushi as the head of the publishing company, Robert Pugh as the former Foreign Secretary and a welcome appearance by 93 year old Eli Wallach.
As the ghost writer uncovers more and more information, more possibilities for conspiracy theories arise until a good dramatic ending which we may or may not have been anticipating but which makes some sense (sinister sense) of what has been going on.
Fr Peter Malone MSC is an associate of the Australian Catholic Office for Film & Broadcasting.
Out August 12, 2010