Written and directed by Anthony Z. James, on the first day of freedom, a grizzled ex-con must reconnect with his son before his violent past catches up with them. Starring: Anthony Mark Streeter, Nathan Hamilton, Russell Barnett, Emmy Happisburgh, Severija Bielskyte, Jamie O’Neill and Calum Speed.
As you dive into Tony’s (Streeter) world as he steps out of prison for the first time in ten years it’s almost as if you’re tagging along, the camera pulls you along for the ride as if you were wandering London’s backstreets with him. There’s a very natural style to the direction from the start which gels with the simple nature of the story, split between the themes of family and facing your past. The film takes its time about revealing Tony’s reasons for being put away and forced to abandon his family and young son for an entire decade, missing out on a huge chunk of his child’s formative years. It’s a slow build but don’t fret, the inevitable questions about his crimes will be answered as he can’t outrun his past.
Most of the screen time is split between Tony (Streeter) and his son Conor (Hamilton), both having to readjust to being in each other’s lives and neither having the smoothest of transitions. Streeter gives a very interesting performance that’s constantly walking the line of whether he’s likable or not, he would more comfortably sit in the category of anti-hero, he’s gruff, hard-headed, old fashioned and arrogant yet you can’t help but to want to see what happens to him. Hamilton’s performance as Conor definitely has a few of the qualities of his father but with more emotional responses and struggles with the return of his absent father. The emotion is definitely present in his portrayal but there are a couple of moments where it’s not entirely convincing and feels as though it’s unclear if it’s intended as genuine or meant as emotionally manipulative behaviour to excuse the poor treatment of his girlfriend. The only other character that really gets involved in the story is Barnett’s Dominic, but his performance is too obvious, he’s quite a stereotypical character and the portrayal falls the same way, it’s trying too hard to be the tough guy, hardened criminal type and it doesn’t have anything unique to add.
The direction consistently sticks to that down to earth style throughout, there’s no glamorising to be found, it follows closely to its characters and sticks to the heart of its story. That style is definitely enhanced by its handheld nature from being shot entirely on an iPhone, giving it almost the atmosphere of a documentary, feeding off the realism and constantly moving. There are a few shots here and there which get overly close, however some of these are understandably due to the minimal space in some of the sets, which makes it hard to judge whether there was a better angle available. Its editing has a few timing issues also, there are characters who are introduced too soon with no explanation as to their connection to the story which appears soon after. It feels as though those cuts could have been more smoothly timed in their progression to make them feel less out of place and less jarring transitions, as the scenes themselves aren’t problematic.
There are different elements of the writing that work better than others, there’s a lot of old-fashioned ideals of masculinity and attitudes towards women and while they do fit the characters, it feels repetitive, with the world moving forward, it would be great to see a character such as this have less typical behaviour and more complexity. Tony’s character is fairly two-dimensional as he’s missing more of a personality, because other than being brash and arrogant, there isn’t much to him, he just needed an extra individual touch to elevate his character. That simplicity does effect the more emotional side to the story, Tony rarely engages with it, his attitude feels very lacking of remorse or regret, he’s frequently surprisingly casual about his situation, it could be called his coping mechanism but there was the potential for a deeper exploration of the emotions of his complicated situation. It’s possible that could have been accomplished if the story didn’t spend its latter moments turning to the unfinished business of Tony’s crimes, it’s an aspect of the story that will work better for some than others. While it’s a more suspenseful or brutal turn of events, it doesn’t balance perfectly with the rest of the plot, it’s only briefly introduced earlier on, and could have been more tightly woven into the film as a whole rather than feeling like a huge last minute change of pace. Again, it’s something that some viewers may find more satisfying than others.
Ghost has a raw, natural and unfiltered style, pulling you right into the action and taking you step for step along with Tony. There are a couple of issues with the writing and editing that don’t quite balance up with the transparent style of direction, but given that this is a feature directorial debut from James, they’re aspects that are teething issues amongst a story that has a clear aim and otherwise consistent style. It doesn’t quite fulfil its potential with the complex emotions that its plot had to offer, it scratches the surface of deeper trauma and in the end directs its attention to a more thuggish development that doesn’t sit in perfect balance with the family focused majority of the feature. This film is a great first effort from James, it achieves a lot with its minimal budget and it shows potential and style that will be interesting to see how they develop in future features.
Verdict: ✯✯✯| 6/10
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