Friday, 24 August 2012

Karen Oganesyan: The Brownie aka Ghost (Домовой)

Director Karen Oganesyan 
Cast: Konstantin Khabensky, Vladimir Mashkov, Chulpan Khamatova, Armen Dzhigarkhanyan, Vitaly Kischenko, Anatoly Semenov, Ramil Sabitov, Aleksandr Chutko, Sergey Gazarov.


The idea of a face to face meeting between a writer and his character is imaginative, but by no means original. The creators of the suspense thriller, The Ghost, are obviously not afraid of the beaten path. The box-office totals of recent films produced by Timur Bekmambetov, the leader of the new trend in Russian cinema, prove that it’s all right if a film smells a trifle musty and recycles elements of Hollywood productions of past decades.
The film is about Anton, the author of a crime fiction series, whose hero is a professional killer nicknamed the Ghost (Domovoi). As he signs his books in a library, Anton witnesses a murder committed by a professional killer. The killer, who later turns out to be the Ghost himself, meets Anton afterward and offers him a story from real life. Suffering from serious writer's block and feeling his own writing to be forced and untrue to life, Anton eagerly accepts the offer of collaboration. Eventually, he has an opportunity to try professional murder himself and offers the Ghost a challenge: they will randomly select a victim whom Anton will track down. For Anton to make his “kill,” he has to get the victim alone with no witnesses.
Oganesian’s film cannot claim to be original because it appears after such Hollywood cult productions as Basic Instinct (Paul Verhoeven, 1992)and Fight Club (David Fincher, 1999), with which it shares basic plot elements. Like the lead in Basic Instinct, Anton feels the need to live through a crime in order to write about it and, as in Fight Club, the plot is based on the tension between a weak loser and his double, a cool and manly character produced by his own imagination. Of course, these story blocks in Oganesian’s film are arranged differently and may convey a different message: here the writer only pretends to kill, the Ghost is a real person whose story inspired the writer to create his series, and the access to violence unleashes the evil side of Anton's self, which he must then overcome. Nevertheless, the air of familiarity and cliché is indispensable to the film.
In addition to the frame—a story focused on the relationship of a writer to his writing—there is also a second plot, an intrigue, which ends with a shocking and unexpected revelation. Hidden beneath the surface until the climactic scene, in which the writer pretends to kill the victim, this plot is built on the laws of suspenseful filmmaking. It resembles the famous move in Alfred Hitchcock’s Vertigo (1958), where one of the characters creates a plot which another character enacts without realizing it. The killer in The Ghost has been hired by the mafia and a general prosecutor to get rid of a dangerous witness. He anticipates that the prosecutor has ordered him traced and killed afterwards. He reassigns this killing to Anton and secretly guides the writer in a supposedly random choice of victim. Trying to play the killer's double, Anton becomes a dummy in the killer's play. When the writer happily pretends to kill the victim in a public restroom by pointing two fingers through the stall door, the real killer kills the victim from behind Anton's back.

Reviewed by Jamilya Nazyrova © 2009 in KinoKultura 

If Karen Oganesyan's "The Ghost" hadn't been so blatantly tooled as an item for Hollywood remake, it might have proved to be a clever fusion of the twin Russian obsessions for the criminal underground and the literary world. When the film's bestselling crime novelist hits a creative slump and finds sudden inspiration from a hitman who could have popped from the pages of one of his tomes, the action flirts with outright comedy, but turns into a merely mediocre shoot-'em-up straining for effect. Surefire local B.O. likely will gird a future deal with a Stateside studio. Author Anton (Konstantin Khabensky) is signing copies of his latest book, "The Ghost's Revenge," in a Moscow bookstore when he witnesses hitman Mikhail (Vladimir Mashkov) perform a swift assassination across the street. Beset with his own personal and familial demons, Anton proves vulnerable to Mikhail's entreaties to let him provide the author with an insider's view of the life of a killer-for-hire. Even half-interested viewers will be far ahead of Anton in his shock that he's become a pawn in Mikhail's larger game, which turns out to be only slightly intriguing ...

The deliberate pacing of Russian narratives can sometimes be difficult for North American audiences to adjust to but for people who can adapt to the slightly more plodding style of storytelling, The Ghost is worth seeking out. This somewhat conventional thriller follows the story of Anton (Konstantin Khabensky), a crime novelist who witnesses the daylight assassination of a mob informant. After getting over the shock of viewing a scenario he’s fictionally written about so often, Anton wants to bring more reality to his prose. The assassin (Vladimir Mashkov), who approached Anton for an autograph moments prior to the murder, seeks out the author and offers to tell his story and grant Anton insight into the world of murder for hire. Anton takes on the role of confessor, using the assassin’s real life exploits to help his writing as he works to understand the mind of a cold-blooded, methodical killer, going so far as to plot a pretend assassination so he can feel the thrill of the hunt. The Ghost weaves an intricate story that, though a little predictable and lacking the action of a Hollywood thriller, is captivating and well thought out. Khabensky, who North American audiences might recognize from the action packed Russian fantasy film Night Watch (Nochoy Dozor) and its less enjoyable sequel Day Watch (Dnevno Dozor), gives a solid performance as a novelist struggling with his inner demons, testing the limits of his experience. ...

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