Posted on 3/01/10 09:17 PM
Ghost was the Number 1 box office smash hit of 1990. It made household names of rising stars Patrick Swayze and Demi Moore and netted an Oscar for the always excellent Whoopi Goldberg. It's easy to see where its appeal lies. By its heart wrenching love story, a compelling murder plot, moments of real comedy, and fantastic special effects. All the components needed to turn Ghost into a crowd pleaser. Not everything about the film always rings true. And some of the revelations about the afterlife are disappointingly clumsy and clichéd, but for the most part Ghost is a film that's remarkably assured, and delivers on what it promises.
Swayze is an investment councilor Sam Wheat who enjoys a blossoming relationship with artist Molly Jensen (Moore). It all goes unpleasant when Sam is shot and killed by a mugger. But remains on Earth as a spirit. He is unable to be seen or heard by anyone and incapable of physical human contact. But when it turns out his death was all part of an elaborate setup, Sam enlists the aid of charlatan psychic Oda Mae Brown (Goldberg, gloriously entertaining) to warn Molly that the killers are after her now.
Some people found entertaining about Ghost was the logical approach it takes in weaving a story from a spirit's POV. When Sam becomes a ghost, it takes a while for him to learn the rules. He learns right away that he can't touch anything. But it takes longer for him to learn that it's not impossible for him to regain the ability to move objects. He discovers this when he meets a more seasoned ghost on a subway train (the late Vincent Schiavelli).
I was drawn to Ghost for its romantic elements. The way it explores the area of love that goes beyond the boundaries of mortal souls, beyond the realms of this world, a bond which transcends that fragile hold on life to an unknown world of everlasting love. I love the infamous pottery scene.
Another thing of interest is the surprisingly smart screenplay written by Bruce Joel Rubin. Not only does he handle the spiritual side of Ghost with consummate skill, but he also crafts a credible thriller, and keeps things ticking along nicely, balancing the drama with comedy whenever things threaten to get too maudlin. Jerry Zucker's direction is also worthy of mention because it's so confident and assured. Surprising, considering he comes from a background of screwball comedy.
As for the performances, they're a little uneven. Although Patrick Swayze is not one of the greatest actors to grace the Earth, he's quite well suited to the part of a ghost. In fact this is probably his best role. But it's in his scenes with Whoopi where he really shines. They make quite an amusing double act. There's one inspired scene where he has to talk her through closing an account and half the time she misinterprets his instructions. Or when he (eventually) convinces her to hand over a check for 4 million dollars to some nuns (a bit prophetic for what was to come for Whoopi!).
But its Whoopi Goldberg who steals the film out from everyone else. She's downright hilarious from the moment she appears. She's clearly having a ball as the fake medium who's more surprised than anyone when she finds her powers are genuine. She gets all the best lines and she knows it. And she has greater chemistry with Swayze than he does with Moore. She deserved to walk away with the Oscar. Sometimes they do get it right!
The special effects have lost a little of their sparkle over the years but hold up well. The images of Sam, moving through a human body and seeing blood and inner workings is striking. Or seeing him walk through doors and leap from train to train is memorable..
Thanks to its good plot twists, beautifully directed love scenes and great performances from Swayze and Whoopi. Ghost is a film that flies high.
To Patrick Swayze, August 18, 1952 -- September 14, 2009