Tuesday, 13 April 2010

New Esquire (May 2010): RTK on Polanski's The Ghost

The new Esquire has on its cover Jay-Z, which is good news, as I might now find out just who that guy is and what he’s all about. Within, my film column is about Roman Polanski’s movie of Robert Harris’s The Ghost, in which I found much to enjoy while also finding myself unable to get past one mountainous error, namely the drama’s daft imagining of a Blairesque Prime Minister played by Pierce Brosnan – 'Adam Lang', as Harris calls him, an international statesman shown to be utterly devoid of qualities. As I write in the mag:
"Pierce Brosnan unsurprisingly flounders in trying to fill this cursory outline of a person. In Harris’s novel, the ‘Ghost’ decides finally that Lang is just ‘not a psychologically credible character.’ Quite. But while Harris intends us to read Lang as a pliable phoney, all that comes across is Harris’s consuming hatred of Tony Blair, whom Lang resembles in every respect but for the ones that actually matter..."
Admiring John Rentoul’s political writings as I do, and finding myself mostly in agreement with him about the rationale for and legality of Britain’s involvement in the invasion of Saddam Hussein’s Iraq, I suspect he would not be taken with my piece were he to read it, since he’s been vocal in his criticism of The Ghost and its makers (without having seen the movie); whereas I devote a fair few lines to my admiration of Polanski as a filmmaker, and attribute my overall liking for the film to it being so recognisably un film de Polanski.
As I say in the piece, it has ‘the quite inimitable Polanskian mood: a sense of creeping unease, of the slow-but-steady workings of fate, the unfussy, commonplace presence of evil in the world.’ Moreover, Ewan McGregor in the lead is ‘a classic Polanski hero in distress, na├»vely courting trouble and yet, on some level, asking for it.’ And like so much of Polanski, The Ghost plays on the menacing theme of ‘the double’ – two men sharing a moral/physical resemblance and, possibly, a fate. Location-wise Polanski makes the North Sea island of Sylt ‘double’ as Martha's Vineyard, and it’s a great swap, because scenically the film has that mood evoked by Norman Mailer in his New England-set thriller Tough Guys Don’t Dance: the ‘cold sea air filled with the bottomless chill that lies at the cloistered heart of ghost stories.’ Those who treasure how Polanski shot the island of Lindisfarne in Cul-de-Sac will feel those embers warmed by The Ghost.
I must say, I don’t think Polanski undertook the filming of Harris’s novel on the grounds that he wanted to play his own part in dragging Blair up before The Hague. Rather, Polanski had been at work with Harris on a movie of one of the author’s earlier successes, Pompeii, but then the funding collapsed. As Harris tells it (or as reported by Michael White the other week) he then “offered [The Ghost] as an alternative to Polanski, who is not interested in politics. ‘This Gordon Brown, he’s schmuck, yes?’ was the limit of [Polanski’s] conversation.” That certainly sounds like Polanski’s diction, at least as Martin Amis once aped it in a famous appraising interview piece.