Roman Polanski does a fairly proficient, sleek job of work on The Ghost, a piece of political pulp adapted by Robert Harris from his novel. The film follows an unnamed hack (Ewan McGregor) who's assigned to ghost-write the memoirs of a former British PM named Tony Bl- ... sorry, Adam Lang (Pierce Brosnan). Arriving at Lang’s house in the US, McGregor's character soon starts to find out some unpalatable details surrounding his subject, including the mysterious circumstances of the death of the previous ghost-writer on the project. When Lang is accused of authorising the seizure of suspected terrorists and handing them over for torture by the CIA, it’s not long before our hero starts (rather unwisely) retracing his predecessor’s footsteps in an attempt to get to the bottom of Lang’s nefarious dealings.
The film makes the mistake of getting Lang out of the picture too early, just when the viewer is beginning to enjoy the back-and-forth between this character and the writer, and too much time is spent watching McGregor playing amateur detective. Harris grafts unsubtle parallels with real political events onto a thriller plot in a way that starts to seem rather risible. "This is getting ridiculous!" exclaims McGregor at one point. He’s talking about the instruction he’s receiving from a Sat-Nav device. But he might as well be referring to The Ghost’s increasingly unlikely plot developments. There are a few enjoyably tart exchanges in Harris’s dialogue but not quite enough to make up for the lines that clunk or the sense of weary familiarity that the let’s-blame- the-CIA scenario ultimately engenders.
Still, Polanski gives the film a distinctive look - its greeny hue is both oppressive and strangely inviting - and an excellent cast help to smooth over some of the contrivances. McGregor is an engaging and likeable lead, Olivia Williams registers strongly as Mrs. Lang, and Kim Cattrall contributes a cool, amusing performance as Lang’s very attentive assistant. There are some neat cameos too: James Belushi and Eli Wallach turn up, as does Tom Wilkinson, playing a sneaky Prof with unsavoury connections. (Now, didn’t Wilkinson already get McGregor into enough hot water in Woody Allen's Cassandra’s Dream [2007?]) Not one to write home about, then, but The Ghost proves entertaining enough.