Tropic Sprockets by Ian Brockway


Kelly O’Sullivan directs an affecting family drama in “Ghostlight.” There have been countless selections in this genre from the excellent coming of age study “Are You There God? It’s Me, Margaret” to “Ordinary People” and “Terms of Endearment”. The situation of a grieving family might well be familiar territory, but “Ghostlight” is bolstered by impacting performances mainly by Keith and Katherine Kupferer in lead roles, but all actors are authentic and visceral here without any false notes in the group. The narrative is apprehensive and suspenseful with an air of haunt that lasts right up until the final credits.

Dan (Keith Kupferer) is a menial construction worker. He is glum and taciturn as if the weight of the world is upon his shoulders. His daughter (Katherine Kupferer) is aggressive and angry. Because of her emotion that reaches a violent point, she is expelled from school. The family has a son Brian who is never spoken of, for reasons unclear at first. They are also involved in a lawsuit.

Day after day, Dan faces work on the scorching road with a jackhammer. At home, he faces emptiness, and ennui. At one point, he is violent with a driver. He is given a warning. The days pass. A lady (Dolly de Leon) asks Dan if he would fill in to read a script. Dan reluctantly agrees, not wanting to say an absolute no.

The script being read is Romeo and Juliet. Gradually the camaraderie of the theater group takes hold of Dan’s imagination. He experiences a slight escape from his weary life.

Dan does not know the first thing about Shakespeare or the theater world (aside from his daughter Daisy), yet he is fascinated by the ensemble’s free thinking and expression.

Dan, a typical strong silent type, makes excuses to join the group.

The daughter and wife (Tara Mallen) suspect an affair.

Keith Kupferer’s performance is so nuanced and detailed that it feels poetic and charged with a gentleness on the level of a song. The boulder-faced man relaxes by small increments, very much like real life.

Daisy over time also lessens her anger and it is revealed that the father and daughter have a very strong bond and genuinely like one another.

Dan experiences a great mindfulness, an emotion of sweetness and horror, that the Shakespeare play is a parallel to the fate of his own son.

While the concept of a family solidifying over conflict is well known in cinema history, the film is full of softness, subtlety, and unpredictability.
This is a film that is not afraid of the danger or dare in its sincerity and damaged emotions.

In other director’s hands, these notes of guilt, fear and frustration could play like a Hallmark card of pathos, but O’Sullivan executes all of the accents with a fine understated quality that is just right.

This is sweetness without any saccharine sight or cloying ring.

Write Ian at

Ratings & Comments