In Roman Polanski's adaptation of Robert Harris' novel of the same name, Ewan McGregor stars as an unnamed ghostwriter ('the Ghost') roped in to complete the memoirs of former Prime Minister Adam Lang (Pierce Brosnan), after his previous writer died under what unravel to be mysterious circumstances.When Lang is accused of participation in war-crime activity, the Ghost finds himself knee-deep in a political furore. As the Ghost weaves himself deeper into the former PM's life, he finds himself up to his neck in scandal, and begins to unwittingly retrace his predecessor's steps in a search for the truth.
On accepting his new writing job, the Ghost is whisked away to a secluded island where the former PM has made his home with wife Ruth (Olivia Williams), family and a team of employees, including Amelia Bly, played by Kim 'Samantha from Sex and the City' Cattrall. Although she doesn't give an outstanding or memorable performance, proves there's more to her career than just talking about men's dangly bits. McGregor shines as the Ghost, showing off a slightly cocky demeanour and helpings of wit in a very British, self-deprecating manner. Throughout his career, he's shown his chops as an actor, from drug-addled in Trainspotting, a lovey-dovey poet in Moulin Rouge, to a mature, layered performance in The Ghost. With such versatility and stunning performances like this, McGregor could well be one of Britain's most talented male stars. And on the subject of Brit stars, the criminally-underrated Olivia Williams shows both strength and vulnerability perfectly as Ruth.
One similar film immediately sprung to mind with a similar feel to The Ghost, and that was Scorcese's Shutter Island, released earlier this year. Although the two films take very different narrative directions, both have noir-ish elements, and build tension slowly with a sense of menace - an area in which Polanski has often demonstrated his expertise. The landscape of the island is more reminiscent a remote isle off the coast of Scotland than a few hours drive from the bustle of New York City, creating an unnerving sense of isolation.
Although the film fits the genre of 'political thriller', the politics aren't over-complicated, as the narrative relates more to the detective-like antics of the Ghost than the issues themselves. As McGregors character states at the very beginning, he knows nothing about politics - and a similarly small amount of political understanding is needed to still enjoy this film. At around the two hour mark, it's not simply a 'casual viewing' movie, and to truly feel the tension that is constantly hanging in the air, it needs a bit of concentration and engagement. So if you're looking for a fast-paced, action packed thrill ride, this won't be the DVD to grab from the Blockbuster shelf. But for those who like their thrillers suspenseful and mysterious, don't miss out on one of this year's underrated gems.