Yes, prime minster

Published: August 26, 2010
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Riveting, intriguing and thrilling, are not the words I would use for Roman Polanski’s latest offering The Ghost Writer. This is, after all, the  man responsible for Chinatown, Rosemary’s Baby,  and The Pianist, and had I not known this was a Polanski film, I probably wouldn’t have guessed it. And the indifferent direction wasn’t even the worst of it, the leading actors left much to be desired. The Ghost Writer provided another opportunity for Pierce Brosnan to prove that he should be in some other line of work, and if he must persist in this, then for the love of God, please could he not attempt accents?

The eponymous ghostwriter is Ewan McGregor, hired  to edit and complete the memoirs of one Adam Lang, the former British Prime Minister. Lang has been accused of illegally detaining suspected terrorists  and handing them over to the CIA for further investigation, and torture. Known simply as ‘The Ghost’, McGregor begins to uncover certain truths about the Prime Minister that put his own life in peril. There’s a twist coming up, you know, it’s dangled before you but the big revelation, which is neither big nor revealing enough occurs in the last five of an otherwise tortured 120 minute feature.

But thankfully the twist is not the point, it is merely a gratuitous anti-climax; it is the socio-political commentary that keeps things chugging along, at an albeit lethargic pace.

Lang , accused of a war crime, faces prosecution by the International Criminal Court, and the only way to avoid this is by being in a country that does not recognise the International Criminal Court’s authority. While there are several such countries, he chooses to stay in the US (which is indeed one of them). This is a story heard far too often today: a story of torture,  allegations, victims and survivors, and the lack of ramifications the US faces.  There is of course the irony of having this pointed out by Roman Polanski.

If there was any doubt that former premier Tony Blair and his special relationship with the bellicose US inspired this venture, the fact that the actors engaged to play foreign secretary and secretary of state strongly resemble Robin Cook and Condoleeza Rice ought to settle the matter.

The film is not just about Lang in his role as prime minister however; it is also about the private as well as the political, and both verdicts are damning. We are shown Adam Lang  the husband and he’s no good at it. Neither he nor his wife Ruth (Olivia Williams) are faithful, both are unhappy and the corruption of compromise can be seen within and without.

The movie trudges along slowly for what feels like an eternity, and when it picks up, it picks up just slightly. The twist did not seem worth the 115 minute wait, but, to give the devil his due, it makes for a beautifully crafted , thoughtful scene, a scene where Polanski’s presence looms large.

Published in The Express Tribune, August 22nd, 2010.

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