In this emotionally rewarding, scruffy London-based crime drama, ex-mob thug Tony Ward (the excellent Anthony Mark Streeter) finds himself a free man after a decade-long prison stretch. He soon discovers the incarceration the outside world offers is as difficult as the inside kind when his well-intentioned efforts to reconnect with his estranged wife and now adult son unravels as the temptations of his criminal past catches up with him.
The opening of the film is smartly nuanced—and quite stunning. It opens on black with the sound effect of a roller-slamming gate. Then we see Tony standing outside of a prison. He looks around. You can hear him say, “Now what the fuck do I do?”—without saying it. Meanwhile, his wife and son clean their home and prepare for his arrival. And that’s how the first nine minutes unrolls—without dialog: dialog that’s not needed. And it’s beautiful because this is a film that realizes images and body language speak louder than physical words.
Now, at first mention of a “British crime drama,” your mind calls up Guy Ritchie’s Lock, Stock, and Two Smoking Barrels (1998), Layer Cake (2004), and In Bruges (2008). And if you’re looking for the violence of those films, you’ll be disappointed. Writer-director Anthony Z. James knows we’ve been down this road before and we know hard-ass guys like Tony. This isn’t about the crime caper that put Tony in prison or the crime that’ll put him back in there. It’s not about revenge. Even at their most violent, criminals have families. They experience love. And self-loathing when they disappoint the ones they love. That’s this movie. This is a movie that goes behind the violence.
If the pioneering, independent spirit of John Cassavetes was still with us (he’d be 91 this year), and still spry enough to shoot films, he would have utilized smartphone technology and made Ghost. (Why not: Asian action-stars Leo Fong and Chun-Ku Lu are still making films at the incredible, respective ages of age of 91 and 74.) So keep that in mind, as I know the modestly budgeted tales by Cassavetes that focus on characters and story, shot with handheld cameras, available lighting and spontaneous improvisation isn’t easily digested by a mass audience. (And it’s interesting to point out: Unlike James, Cassavetes was unable to find an American distributor for his debut film, 1960’s Shadows.)
I have to admit that, at first, the concept of making movies via smartphones didn’t sound too promising. I’ve worked on my share of shorts as an actor where my directors couldn’t even handle professional cameras and editing suites with aplomb (or finish their masterpieces 50 percent of the time), so the use of phones and MacBooks to make movies sounded like amateur hour.
Then James Cullen Bressack proved us all wrong with 2013’s To Jennifer: the first commercially released film shot and edited entirely on an iPhone 5. Then Steven Soderbergh (Erin Brockovich, Ocean’s Eleven, Magic Mike) upped the game with his smartphone-shot feature, 2018’s Unsane.
Since then, Apple has gone through three upgrades and now we have this impressive feature film debut by British filmmaker Anthony Z. James shot on a pair of iPhone 8s and edited on a MacBook Pro equipped with a freeware version of DaVinci Resolve editing software. And if you didn’t tell me Ghost was shot smartphone DIY guerilla-style, I would have thought it was shot “more professionally” via permits, a Canon EOS C200, and Final Cut Pro.
Which just goes to show you: It’s not the technology. It’s not the “cost” of the filmmaking tool. It’s the person behind the technology that creates great film.
And I am glad that Anthony Z. James is the man behind the technology. If he accomplishes this with a minimal crew and budget on smartphones, then what can he do with an $80,000 Red Digital and a seven-figure budget?
And Ghost is only his beginning.
Disclaimer: This movie was sent to us by its PR company. As always: you know that has no bearing on our review of the film.