Movie Review: "Ghost"
Length: 127 minutes
Release Date: July 13, 1990
Directed by: Jerry Zucker
Stars: 3.5. out of 5
Ghost stories involving murder and romance may seem a bit cliché, but the film "Ghost" is a blockbuster hit that successfully combines these elements into a dramatic piece worthy of at least one viewing. Murder mysteries tend to be fairly formulaic. Although "Ghost" struggles to escape this pitfall at times, it weaves an endearing tale sure to captivate fans of mystery and romance. However, those looking for twists and turns in mysteries or serious plot and character development may be disheartened by the obvious lack of those elements in this film.
"Ghost" tells the story of Sam Wheat (Patrick Swayze), who is murdered in an alley after investigating suspicious transactions at the banking institution where he works. His coworker, Carl Bruner (Tony Goldwin), had previously offered to conduct the investigation, but Sam turned him down at the time. Sam's girlfriend, Molly Jensen (Demi Moore), is a talented potter who witnesses the altercation between Sam and Willy Lopez (Rick Aviles) that results in Sam's death. The police believe the event to be a mugging gone wrong. Sam's ghost reaches out to Oda Mae Brown (Whoopi Goldberg), a small-time con artist who pretends to be a spiritual medium. Oda Mae helps Sam investigate the events leading up to his death and the apparent complicity of Carl in both the banking transactions and his untimely demise.
The film features some of the best acting in the romance and mystery genre. Swayze is often typecast as a successful young heartthrob, and he reprises this role with Sam. Goldwin's portrayal of Carl is less inspiring. He's an obvious suspect from the start and doesn't try to break free from the stereotypical villain mold. Moore delivers a believable performance as Jensen, demonstrating a palpable onscreen chemistry with Swayze. Aviles definitely has the role of a hired goon down pat, though the character proves one of the more predictable ones in the film. Goldberg is the highlight of the movie. While the plot mainly revolves around Sam, she steals almost every scene whether she's the star of the shot or not. Her performance throughout the film is top-notch.
The cinematography in "Ghost" is fairly standard and straightforward. Camera angles are captured from an over-the-shoulder perspective that lends itself well to mystery movies. Intimate close-ups are few, creating a distance that mirrors the plot itself. Many special effects in the movie break the mold, and the transitions between scenes are solid and effective, which is a hallmark of director Jerry Zucker.
The film's few shortcomings seem mainly to emerge from the script itself. Sam, Molly, Carl, and Willy never develop as characters over the course of the film. Only Oda Mae is adequately developed. With one notable exception, the film's stand-out moments occur in the medium's scenes. The plot is strangely linear, and it is easy to guess the roles of the characters in each scene. Very few plot twists emerge, and red herrings are practically nonexistent. This is very uncommon for a mystery film, as viewers are likely to have figured out the entire plot before the movie is half complete. Nonetheless, the dialogue is evocative and believable, showcasing the writer's talent and giving the actors a way to show their own unique gifts and bring audiences into the film.
Zucker's direction helps bring the piece together. He was previously known for directing comedies including "Airplane" and "Police Squad" with his brother. It is clear from the increasingly effective use of transitions that he used some of the skills in cinematography that he developed on those films in "Ghost." The actors move and respond well onscreen, demonstrating that Zucker has the ability to bring out the best in their performances through dialogue and interactions. The film is one of Zucker's early solo works, and some rough edges are to be expected, including cookie-cutter shots and the use of static characters. These work better in comedies than drama or mystery films, where character and plot development are more important.
"Ghost" is a great choice for a romantic night in with a loving companion or a movie night with a group of close friends. Those looking for powerful drama or intense mystery development may not flock to the film, but it is likely to appeal to those seeking a feel-good story with supernatural elements.