Ghostbusters (PG) National release Our Kind of Traitor (MA15+) National release
George Orwell was a bit of a prophet, but had he been able to see even further ahead he might have tweaked one of the famous lines in Nineteen Eighty-Four: “If you want a picture of the future, imagine a boot stamping on a ghost face — forever.’’ The original Ghostbusters came out in 1984 and its sequel five years later, both directed by Ivan Reitman. Now we have a fast-paced, fun-filled, female-charged reboot, with the talented Melissa McCarthy, Kristen Wiig, Kate McKinnon and Leslie Jones taking over ghost-stomping duties from Bill Murray, Dan Aykroyd and the other boys.
There’s still a man in charge of Ghostbusters, though: director Paul Feig, who worked with McCarthy on the 2011 hit Bridesmaids (which also starred Wiig) and the police and espionage comedies The Heat (2013) and Spy (2015). He’s a filmmaker who works with funny women.
There’s been a bit of debate over the feminisation of such a well-known movie, which Feig seems to anticipate with a deft joke early on, as the would-be ghostbusters check their online profile. “Ain’t no bitches gonna hunt no ghosts,’’ declares one troller.
There’s a challenge in remaking such a popular film. For a start, the audience is more layered than usual. There are people who saw Ghostbusters as teenagers and still remember most of the dialogue (I work with a few of them), people a bit older who saw it, liked it but don’t remember it in detail and even — I believe this is true — people who have never seen it.
As it happens 1984 was a bumper year for movies, including others that would become franchises such as The Terminator, Gremlins, Police Academy, The Karate Kid and the one that topped Ghostbusters at the box office, Beverly Hills Cop. The Oscar went to Amadeus, Judy Davis should have won for A Passage to India, and the three I most remember are Wim Wender’s Paris, Texas, Roland Joffe’s The Killing Fields and Michael Radford’s 1984.
Fieg, who wrote the script with Katie Dippold (who wrote The Heat), approached this challenge sensibly, saying his plan was to “tell a story you haven’t seen before. Or tell a story you’ve seen before, but in a way you haven’t seen it.” So while there are in-jokes for diehard Ghostbusters fans and cameo roles for Murray, Aykroyd and others, including a few of the original ghosts, it’s also an enjoyable supernatural comedy for one and all. It’s a bit scarier than the original, with some of the ghosts nasty, but as the PG rating suggests, nothing to faint over.
The film opens with a haunted house scene in New York City. We soon meet science academic Erin Gilbert (Wiig), who used to believe in ghosts and still does deep down, paranormal researchers Abby Yates (McCarthy) and Jillian Holtzman (McKinnon), who is the ghost-fighting gadget designer. The three unite after their day jobs go sour and are joined by subway worker Patty Tolan (Jones). All four are humorous, especially the zany Holtzman.
They hire a handsome and dim receptionist named Kevin (a wonderful Chris Hemsworth, who keeps his Australian accent). The scenes where the four women try to tame Kevin — to answer the phone and such — are a highlight, one that shows women and men can be funny together. Kevin’s character does change towards the end, in a story-defining way.
The Ghostbusters, as the media calls them, are also aware of a possible spectre-rousing villain, Rowan (Neil Casey), who perhaps gives himself away with his first line about how humanity walks through sewage and needs to be cleaned up. The NYC mayor (Andy Garcia) is another problem. So we have the Ghostbusters and Kevin taking on just about everyone, alive and undead. Are they just “incredibly sad, lonely women’’, as the mayor’s office calls them, or city-saving superheroes?
You’ll find out in the energetic end sequence, which makes clever use of the cute Ghostbusters logo and leaves the door wide open for a sequel. As Abby tells childhood friend Erin at one point, “This is what we dreamed about since we were little kids.’’ Our Kind of Traitor, based on the 2010 novel by John Le Carre, is directed by Susanna White, who made her name at the BBC with literary adaptations such as Bleak House (2005) and Jane Eyre (2006).
The script is by Hossein Amini, who received an Oscar nomination for The Wings of the Dove (1997), based on the Henry James novel, and also wrote the 2011 film version of James Sallis’s crime thriller Drive. It’s a good books-to-screen combination, backed by a strong cast, and the result works for most of this unsettling tale of modern finance, politics and espionage.
The film opens with tight, suspenseful scenes that set up the story. Perry Makepeace (Ewan McGregor) and his wife Gail Perkins (Naomie Harris, Miss Moneypenny in the latest James Bond films) are on holiday in Marrakech, Morocco. He’s a professor of poetics, she’s a barrister and they are trying to rescue their 10-year marriage. We learn later he has been unfaithful.
They argue, she leaves and he ends up hang- Ghostbusters; Our Kind of Traitor, ing out with a group of fellow guests, rowdy Russian men who are drinking a lot of expensive wine. They all go to a party, where the entertainment is even richer.
The Russians are led by bear-like Dimi (Stellan Skarsgard, father of the new Tarzan, Alexander Skarsgard). “Your wife just left you,’’ he cheerfully yells when Perry first refuses a drink. “Don’t be a sourpussy.’’ The MA15+ rating is due to Dimi’s fondness for the f-word, I suspect.
It turns out Dimi is a money launderer for the Russian mafia, which has plans to set up a bank in England. He wants out and is willing to tell all to the British, provided his wife and children are protected. He turns to Perry for help. Skarsgard is brilliant as a tough man who has a vulnerable — and perhaps honourable — side. Perry wants to help him, despite the risk, because he too wants to be honourable.
Then MI6 becomes involved — Damian Lewis is superb as complex lead agent Hector — but perhaps not with the support of the Foreign Office. Leading MP Aubrey Longrigg (Jeremy Northam) may be on the wrong side. As the title suggests, working out who is a traitor isn’t always straightforward.
The action moves to Paris, London, Bern and to the Swiss Alps as Perry, now backed by Gail, and MI6, try to save Dimi and his family from the ruthless Russians. There are some highwire moments but the plot is let down towards the end by some hard-to-believe moments. Even so, it’s an intriguing character study embedded in a spy thriller.
Melissa McCarthy, Kate McKinnon, Kristen Wiigg and Leslie Jones in Chris Hemsworth as their receptionist Kevin, below left; Ewan McGregorg and Naomie Harris in below