The Ghost ****
Directed by: Roman Polanski
Starring: Ewen McGregor, Pierce Brosnan, Olivia Williams, Kim Cattrall
Four Lions ****
Directed by: Chris Morris
Starring: Riz Ahmed, Arsher Ali, Nigel Lindsay, Kayvan Novak, Adeel Akhtar
Adolf Hitler was a wonderful dancer apparently. Really light on his feet. Of course, he was also one of the craziest, most evil creatures ever to slither across the earth and worthy of nothing but contempt.
But what if – and go with me on this one because it’s a bit of a stretch – what if he was a contestant on Dancing with the Stars?
Would he be judged solely on the fleetness of his feet? Would the voting public be able to separate the dancer from the dance or would it be a case of “nice shimmy Adolph, but you’re still a bloody maniac”?
It’s a knotty question but one that applies – in a very, very small part – to Roman Polanski’s latest, the political thriller, The Ghost.
Depending on which country’s judicial system you ask, Mr Polanski is either not a very nice man at all or “allegedly” not a very nice man at all. Whatever you might believe, however, it cannot be denied given a CV that includes the likes of Chinatown, Rosmary’s Baby and The Pianist – that he has been one of the most distinctive directorial voices of the last 40 years and this is a fine addition to his catalogue.
The Ghost centres on the publication of a former British Prime Minister’s controversial autobiography. After the first ghost writer of ex-PM’s life story is found dead, apparently due to suicide, Ewen McGregor is drafted in to finish the job in double-quick time. Shipped out to a remote location on America’s Eastern seaboard where Adam Lang (Pierce Brosnan) is avoiding the glare of the spotlight with his wife and staff.
Like his real life counterpart, Tony Blair, Lang labours under the shadow of leading his country into war against public opinion.
Amidst this turmoil, McGregor gets busy with the book but doesn’t take long to uncover some uncomfortable truths about the fate of his predecessor.
Based on the Richard Harris novel, The Ghost is an excellent, if slightly slow-moving, thriller. Well written and brilliantly acted, it has an titilating relevance given the incidents in Dublin last weekend and the public reaction to Tony Blair’s own autobiography.
Polanski illicits fantastic performances from McGregor and Brosnan but the real star of the show is Olivia Williams who is outstanding as Lang’s prickly wife, Ruth.
Despite waiting till the final third to really pick up the pace, it is an absorbing watch throughout.
At first glance Four Lions seems an awful lot dumber than it actually is. Chris Morris – he of Brasseye and other critic and watchdog-baiting fare – has ventured into the seldom-plumbed depths of jihadi humour and initially it seems as though he’s taken this volatile topic and given it a once-over with Chuckle Brothers-grade humour.
The plot centres on a group of young Muslim men in Sheffield, who plan to become suicide bombers. As frightening a thought as this might be in light of the headlines of the last few years, these lads are, quite simply, numbskulls. They’re more likely to injure themselves opening a bag of crisps than successfully plan and carry out an act of terror.
However, underpinning all this fairly pedestrian – but very funny – slapstick (crows get blown up, one of the lads “disguises” himself as a woman by covering his massive beard with his hands) is the actual goal of the group which makes for some interestingly uncomfortable moments.
The group’s leader Omar (Riz Ahmed) comes across as a sympathetic figure. He has a loving wife and son and comes across as reasonably clever. You can’t help but feel for him as he tries to organise his collection of idiotic comrades. So the casual references to his impending suicide by both his wife and child are somewhat jarring given the Keystone Kops atmosphere the rest of the story invokes.
Morris takes a very serious topic very UN-seriously. And does a bloody good job of it. Above all things Four Lions is funny. Mostly dumb funny but, as the film’s end approaches and the wheels seem to be falling of the group’s plan, the targets for satire become broader and the occasional moments where the reality of what is being portrayed become harsher.
Four Lions seems to go out of its way not to make any point other than everything should be poked fun at. And in this task it succeeds very well.