Wednesday 13 March 2013

Dark Review - Ghost Dog

Dark Review Image

Ghost Dog Review

By Casey Douglass

Directed and written by : Jim Jarmusch
Starring: Forest Whitaker , John Tormey , Cliff Gorman , Henry Silva , Isaach De Bankolé , Tricia Vessey , Camille Winbush .

Finding a philosophy to live by is something that has become quite important to me over the years. If you don’t have a vague idea of where you want to go and how you are going to get there, you can end up bouncing from one distraction to another for the rest of your life, and ultimately being at the whim of outside forces. Having a semblance of an idea about the kind of person you want to be, and how you would like to react to certain situations can become invaluable in times of hardship. I have yet to find my own life philosophy, be it set out by others (which just seems wrong to me) or self-created. Ghost Dog is someone who has certainly found his.

Ghost Dog (Whitaker) is the story of a man who chooses to follow the writings of Hagakure: The book of the Samurai. Saved from almost certain death when he was younger by Louie (Tormey), a passing gangster type, Ghost Dog returns years later offering his services as a hitman, taking Louie as his Master, and adopting the position of Retainer himself. The film begins with Ghost Dog carrying out a job for Louie, which is complicated by the unexpected presence of the mob boss’s daughter. Ghost Dog becomes the focus for the ire of the whole consortium and must juggle his feelings of loyalty to his Master and his actions against his master’s masters, so to speak.

The Hagakure infuses Ghost Dog’s way of life in almost every respect, be it the manner he chooses to be paid on only the first day of autumn or the way he communicates with Louie via pigeon. This guiding hand gives Ghost Dog much tranquillity, and also litters the film with many contrasts and comparisons between the old giving way to the new. He lives in a shack on the roof of a tall brick building, his pigeons lofted next to him. The shrine he bows to and lights incense on overlooks a large chimneyed industrial complex, which is a lovely contrast that nestles against his own practices. This theme of old giving way to new also appears in other aspects of the film. The mob organisation has fallen on hard times, their income falling and properties up for sale, a sorry-looking room of elderly gangsters, their financial debts mirroring the moral debt of gratitude Ghost Dog owes to Louie.

The above might make Ghost Dog sound like a forlorn loner who has little to do with humanity besides the people he eradicates, but this is not the case. He chooses a solitary life but he is not cold to people, he just doesn’t mix with them more than necessary. His best friend is Raymond (BankolĂ©), a French ice cream seller who speaks as little English as Ghost Dog does French. Yet, the two of them share a bond that seems to get past this apparent impediment, one often knowing what the other means, even if they aren’t certain they have got it right. They also look out for each other and both share the “outsider” status in society. As the film progresses, Ghost Dog chats to a young girl called Pearline (Winbush) and shares his books with her. He also introduces her to Raymond, the ice cream truck and park becoming the focal point of their interactions. These are the scenes in the film which give the most insight into Ghost Dog’s character.

Ghost Dog also enjoys life’s simple pleasures, and the film has a great pacing that conveys this in a relaxing yet intelligent way. Whether he is driving a stolen car listening to a CD with the window down observing the night-life of the slums around him, or sleeping peacefully on the rooftop surrounded by his pigeons, he doesn’t let the big stuff get in the way of the truly soul nourishing stuff, even if it is sometimes to his own detriment. One scene in the film sees him missing the perfect long-range sniping shot just because nature intrudes.

The film has a bitter-sweet ending that stays true to the themes that have emerged during its roughly two-hour duration, the final scenes holding the most emotion seen in the entire film. As the credits roll, you feel that you have truly had a glimpse into someone’s life, what makes them tick, what they care about, and how they view the world. You also see the pros and cons of living your life by a rigid doctrine, and the peace of mind and dangers that go along with it. Ghost Dog is one of my favourite films, if not the favourite. I hope if you watch it, you will enjoy it as much as I have.

Rating: 5/5


My review is also here on Generic Movie Blog UK.