Sunday, 25 April 2010
Cinema Review: 'The Ghost' directed by Roman Polanski
With its script based on a Robert Harris novel, I wasn't expecting any more than a join-the-dots political thriller plot, and that's what I got, although hoped for more nous in its construction and characterisation. But with Roman Polanski directing what may turn out to be his last movie, I was at least expecting a piece of quality film making, and that wasn't delivered either. True, Polanski hasn't consistently maintained the quality of his early films since his exile from America, but for every mundane production ('Oliver Twist', say) there has been a work as compelling as 'The Pianist'.
We know why Harris chose to create an alternative reality in which Tony Blair (or Adam Lang, if you must) gets his comeuppance - he was one of those who bankrolled the New Labour project in its early years until the disenchantment of the second Gulf War. But I'm unsure why Polanski decided to commit it to celluloid. Perhaps after taking up the challenge of recreating Victorian London and World War Two Warsaw, the appeal of a script ostensibly taking on big contemporary events (to say 'ideas' would be pushing it) able to be recreated on relatively small scale sets (most of the action is set in and around the former prime minister's Martha's Vineyard hideaway) was too much for him to resist, or perhaps he had his own Iraq War revenge fantasy to play out. Probably, it was a way of compensating for the collapse of his and Harris's 'Pompeii' project, once projected to have been the most expensive European film ever made, now likely to never cast light onto screen.
'The Ghost' might have worked, but is let down by both its central performances and direction. Pierce Brosnan plays Lang, but you can't shake off the suggestion this is really James Bondd oing a bad Tony Blair impression. He does his usual unshaken and rarely stirred brand of smooth but contaminates the cocktail with the acting equivalent of an unnecessary olive and mini umbrella. He's trying to channel a hollow but charming politician; what gets in the way is a charming but hollow actor. Ewan McGregor as the unnamed ghostwriter is little better. As Polanski's substitute for Nicolas Cage, he perhaps had little time to prepare. Or maybe he was told to do his worst take on Jude Law, which he throws the whole barrow boy act at. At least he gets to bed Cherie, played by Olivia Williams, who brings some complexity to her part as the power behind the ultimate throne. Kim Cattarall, meanwhile, plays a capable Miss Moneypenny and Tom Wilkinson brings the dark menace of the academic-military-industrial complex to a more sophisticated part than the average Bond.
In the end, its Polanski's failure to engage with the camera that transforms what might have been an intelligent romp into such a dull affair. The windswept island lair of Lang/Blair is too small a stage somehow to summon up the forces of global darkness. London is played by Berlin, and has a very minor role. Until the last two minutes, there's not a shot worth remembering. Then come two in a row before the curtain comes down that might just have had the little maestro leaping out of bed in the middle of the night. But by then, you'll probably have vacated the auditorium.