Writer and director: Anthony Z James
The great news for budding Spielbergs is that it is now possible to shoot an entire feature film on an i-phone. Anthony Z James’ Ghost is the proof of it and, much as our gifted cinematographers may wince, the verdict is that you would never be able to guess.
James’ theme is that the ghosts of the past will always intrude on the present and he finds repeated visual reminders of this in bleak London landscapes. Derelict dockyards surround gleaming new tower blocks, old-style working class homes survive in part-gentrified streets, litter and graffiti cast scars on views of modern transport structures. Tony (Anthony Mark Streeter) is himself a ghost, part of the old East End, as he emerges from 10 years in prison and tries to fit back into a world that has moved on without him.
Tony’s wife, Valerie (Emmy Happisburgh) will not see him, but his son, Conor (Nathan Hamilton), a bright and cocky lad, meets him on a pathway running alongside a canal. They are strangers bound together by blood. In beautifully judged, understated performances, Streeter and Hamilton find the awkwardness and the hidden affection in this father-son relationship and, together, they give the film its emotional strength.
James takes Tony and Conor on a journey through Docklands old and new, giving a sense that criminality and suppressed violence are always lying beneath the surface both of the characters and their surroundings. Hamilton’s Conor reminds you of Marlon Brando, roaming the waterfront knowing that he could have been a contender (rather than a lawyer), but settling for a career as a janitor and venting his aggression towards a boxer who would surely obliterate him. The ghost that haunts Conor and holds him back is Tony.
The pace of the film is leisurely and James takes us up blind alleys, not exploring situations or secondary characters to their full potential. For example, we meet Valerie and Kat (Severija Bielskyte), Conor’s newly pregnant girlfriend, much too briefly. Instead, the writer/director opts for a formulaic clash with a particularly vicious gangster (Russell Barnett). When the climax arrives, James’ slow-burn approach in building up the central relationship pays dividends with a suspenseful scene that is sometimes too terrifying to watch.
In these days of computer generated images and IMAX screens, it is refreshing to see a British indie film which reminds us that basic equipment, a decent screenplay and a group of professional actors can be all that is needed to create gripping drama.
Available now on Prime Video