City Of Ghosts

Directed by Matt Dillon

> > Oct 2003

City Of Ghosts - Directed by Matt Dillon
By Allan TongMatt Dillon's directorial debut is a surprise. The star of Drugstore Cowboy and There's Something About Mary crafts an atmospheric, engaging movie, even if the story doesn't add up. Dillon plays Jimmy, the front-man of an American insurance scam who flees an F.B.I. investigation to find his mentor, Marvin (a commanding James Caan), in Cambodia. Marvin is hatching a casino in partnership with some seedy Russians and a corrupt Cambodian general. Since Marvin is a swindler, the deal comes with twists and turns, which the movie reveals. The story is thin, offering nothing new. However, the charm of City of Ghosts lies in its mood, characters and especially its setting of Cambodia, an ancient, beautiful land ravaged by genocide and poverty. Dillon was so enchanted by Cambodia during a trip there that he enlisted screenwriter Barry Gifford (Wild At Heart) to collaborate on a script. Dillon and cinematographer Jim Denault deserve praise for capturing the ramshackle mood of a place where pastel paint chips from every wall, karaoke voices drift through the midnight palms and pedi-cab drivers navigate past children playing in dirt streets. The supporting cast of stranded white foreigners provides additional texture. With his gut hanging out and a child clutching his chest, Gerard Depardieu plays a gruff hotel and bar owner, while Stellan Skarsgård is convincing as Marvin's devious associate. Then there are clichés: Natascha McElhone as the obligatory love interest, Sereyvuth Kem as the too-saintly-to-be-true cyclo-driver, and a thieving monkey. The extra features are limited to Dillon's disappointing audio commentary, along with Gifford. Dillon sounds flat and bored, wasting precious time explaining the story we already see and not offering enough information and anecdotes about the filming, as well as Cambodia. I wish there was more of Gifford's anecdotes in the commentary. Plus: trailer. (MGM)
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