This compelling thriller will keep you on the edge of your seat through almost the whole of the 128 minute length. Roman Polanski’s elegant take on Robert Harris’ novel – co-scripted by Harris with Polanski – is about a British former Prime Minister who is a little like Tony Blair. It grips and twists and turns.
From the trailer, I really didn’t expect to enjoy this very much. I expected it to be Hitchcock “lite”. It isn’t. It’s slick and genuinely pacey, with snappy dialogue and great acting.
Ewan McGregor plays a ghost writer brought in to spice up (sex up?) the memoirs of the former British PM, played by Pierce Brosnan. Brosnan’s accent is all over the place, from Ireland to California via Knightsbridge, but I forgot about that after the first “tsk” I muttered. There is a lovely early scene in a publishing house. A genuinely creepy death of the former ghost writer – which might be murder or suicide – ups the suspense level.
The possibility of the former PM being arrested for war crimes and the demonstrations that plague him in retirement are all brought to life vividly. Humour runs throughout and the lines are sassy and genuinely funny. I laughed out loud a lot.
It’s the ensemble of stunning acting that really sticks with me. I find it hard to pick out one performance. Olivia Williams is astonishing as a Cherie-like political wife. Kim Cattrall is superb as the PM’s aide. Tom Wilkinson, James Belushi, Timothy Hutton, Jon Bernthall, Tim Preece and Robert Pugh are all very good. They sustain an underlying sense of duplicity and make their characters feel real.
Eli Wallach has an amazing cameo role as an old man explaining some sinister events to our ghost writer.
Alexandre Desplat’s excellent soundtrack adds to the creepy sense of danger. This is an understated and very clever movie that greatly improves my opinion of Polanski. Now I know why many love him. I may need to see some of his older stuff again as I used to think he was pretty self-indulgent, before seeing this astonishing achievement.
It wasn’t filmed in the Cape Cod settings of the book. It was filmed in and near Berlin and the island locations are Sylt in the North Sea and Usedom in the Baltic Sea, which explains why the light and vegetation seem wrong. Yet at a time when Mother Nature is making volcanic ash and stopping all planes from being above Europe, the darkness of the movie adds to the shadows sensed in real life. This is a great movie, combining equal parts conspiracy thriller with dollops of zeitgeist. See it.