There's little original in The Ghost - also known in some territories as The Ghost Writer - especially when its big reveal harks back to the work of Frederick Forsyth (specifically the stuff about then leader of the GLC Ken Livingstone in his novel The Fourth Protocol) and the paranoid delusions of Peter 'Spycatcher' Wright - albeit with a 21st Century, Post Cold War twist, but regardless of its familiarity this remains a strong outing for director Roman Polanski in the twilight of his career.
In Robert Harris' novel (which he co-adapted with the director for the big screen), Polanski finds themes much in keeping with his previous work; the intrusion into troubled domestic relationships, the likeable and intelligent innocent being caught in a web of lies and murky mysteries, and the flexible nature of identity. All are present and correct in this story of an unnamed writer (Ewan McGregor, on fine form) who is hired to ghost write the memoirs of Adam Lang, a Blair-like charming yet highly controversial former British PM, played by Pierce Brosnan, after the previous writer has died in mysterious circumstances. Travelling to a wintry, off season Martha's Vineyard, where Lang lives in a forbidding looking bunker like structure in self imposed exile, 'the Ghost' immediately finds himself in the eye of the storm when the former PM's decision to join the US in the war on terror comes back to bite him on the arse via a warrant for his arrest for war crimes by the International Criminal Court.
And so the scene is set for a brisk and efficient thriller with a good deal of suspense and logic which sees the Ghost trying to piece together the exact nature of his predecessor's death and exactly how and why Lang rose to power and prominence so swiftly when he appeared anything but a political animal.
I've never been a great fan of Pierce Brosnan's work but I must admit to finding him more satisfying when he plays slimy little shits - which is why I will always prefer his turn as a spy in John le Carre's Tailor of Panama to his extremely poor depiction of Ian Fleming's James Bond. He's on similar odious form here playing a thinly disguised Tony Blair, but it's worth mentioning that whilst he displays many of Blair's characteristics, the film goes to great pains to make Adam Lang a figure in his own right. As a result he manages to come across as both arrogant and pathetic.
His Cherie is Ruth Lang played by Olivia Williams, an actress whom I feel never gets enough credit for her work. She's brilliant here, delivering a performance of great complexity, cynicism and danger. Sex and the City's Kim Cattrall also pops up as Lang's aide and (it's alluded) mistress but she fails to make much of an impression, whilst Tom Wilkinson delivers an enjoyable cameo as a secretive American academic.
A recommended watch for fans of intelligent intelligence based thrillers and of Roman Polanski, who invests the piece with some delightful sly humour and that eerie sense of eavesdropping and being spied upon that he excels in. But it is also for those people - such as myself - who could never consider themselves a fan of Tony Blair, destroyer of the Labour Party movement and hypocrite.