Film Review: The Ghost

16/04/2010

Based on the best-selling novel by Robert Harris, The Ghost exhibits why Roman Polanski is widely considered one of the greatest directors. From the very beginning the film is captivating, drawing in the viewer until the end credits roll.

The Ghost tells the story of a ghost writer who is commissioned to help finish the memoirs of the former British prime minister, following his predecessor’s unexpected death. Things take a turn for the worse when ex-prime minister Lang is accused of war crimes, and the unwitting ghost writer in drawn into a web of intrigue…

Part of the interest in the film is the obvious parallels between Lang and Tony Blair. Anyone with even a passing interest in British politics cannot help but notice the similarities between the two, in both career incidences and mannerisms. The film is sure to resonate with British audiences with its very topical and believable narrative.

Pierce Brosnan is perfectly cast as Lang, depicting both the charisma and smarminess associated with the former PM. Olivia Williams excels as wife Ruth, giving an engaging performance as the formidable yet frustrated partner. As the ghost writer, Ewan McGregor is a credible protagonist who viewers will side with; much what is discovered occurs from his viewpoint.

Polanski’s film is part political satire and part thriller. The beauty of The Ghost is that it is entirely conceivable; it is not by stretch of the imagination that everything that takes place could really occur. Conspiracy theorists will have a field day with what is ultimately revealed.

The narrative builds at an appropriate pace, gripping the viewer with every new discovery. Furthermore, the setting – a small island off the east coast of the United States – is perfect in providing a location which is both isolating and claustrophobic. The muted palette of the island cinematography adds to this atmosphere of seclusion.

Although Polanski is currently in the press more for his legal issues rather than his filmmaking, this should not detract from this cinematic showpiece. The Ghost is an enthralling thriller, and a welcome return to form for its director.

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Film Review: Repulsion

11/04/2010

Roman Polanski’s 1965 psychological thriller packs a punch in the unnerving atmosphere it creates. Filmed in black and white, this low-budget picture was Polanski’s first English-language feature.

Repulsion‘s narrative centres on Carol, a beautiful but distant French girl living with her sister in London. As the film progresses, her psychosis becomes more and more severe, resulting in cataclysmic effects.

Repulsion exhibits the artistry of Polanski’s direction. The opening shot of a close-up of Carol’s eye immediately grabs the attention. This is followed up by many lingering shots, almost a visual interpretation of the protagonist’s mindset. Sound is also used to great effect in the picture; the ticking clock is particularly disturbing, for both Carol and the viewer.

Catherine Deneuve excels in playing Carol with the understated reticence required. Her disintegration is both disturbing and compelling to watch. Part of the brilliance of Repulsion is that it does not explain the reasons behind Carol’s psychosis. Whilst there are hints, the audience is left to make up their own mind about possible causes.

With the hindsight of what followed in Polanski’s personal life, some of the themes of the film seem unsettling in retrospect. Nonetheless, Repulsion stands as a landmark in the genre, as well as one of the director’s biggest triumphs.

Repulsion was shown at the British Film Institute, as part of the Psycho: A Classic in Context season.