The Ghost [aka The Ghost Writer]
d. Roman Polanski / 2010 / France-Germany-UK / 128 min
Viewed at: Screen 12 @ Odeon (Norwich, UK)
Adapted, as it was, from a novel by Robert Harris, Roman Polanski’s The Ghost is of a generic style which, though popular in novels, has somehow lost favour in the filmic realm. Espionage, intrigue and skullduggery continues to sell paperbacks across the globe, but in cinema, it often seems little more than a throwback to a certain brand of 1970s Hollywood. That said, this might be unapologetically old-fashioned filmmaking from Polanski, but it’s unfeasibly well done.
And despite a somewhat run-of-the-mill feel at times, and with more than a few echoes of Frantic (1988), there are plenty of Polanskisms bubbling away under the surface of The Ghost, particularly the notion of men hemmed-in by nature. Evidenced here by the grey, stormy weather at an off-season Summer retreat, it has antecedents in the tidal patterns of Lindisfarne in Cul-de-sac (1966) and the aqueous surrounds of Knife in the Water (1962).
There’s also a hefty idiosyncrasy about much of the plotting and character development, which serves as a further reflection of those political classics from the ’70s. As a film, The Ghost starts life painfully slow and irrepressibly dull, full of shoddy performances, blatant product placement and the first hints of the truly horrible production design which plagues the whole film. And yet, somehow, Polanski manages to turn things around with pure political intrigue and good old fashioned situational thrills.
The final scene, for instance, was handled with the kind of brilliance we’ve come to expect from the pint-sized Pole. Undoubtedly, it begun life as a money-saving exercise, but Polanski manages to manipulate it to ensure it provides a poetic end to an otherwise prosaic film. After all, sometimes you feel things more when you don’t actually see them occur.