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Thomas Haden Church
A con man flees to Southeast Asia when an international scam he was involved in goes sour. Suspecting he's been double-crossed by his long-time mentor, he sets off to Cambodia for his promised cut. What he finds there is a mysterious and hostile environment where even the most polished criminal can end up on deadly ground. Written by
Sujit R. Varma
What I really enjoyed about "City of Ghosts": The atmosphere of modern Cambodia; the understated characters and storytelling.
I recently spent a couple of weeks in Cambodia. The portrayal of Cambodia in the movie brought back many memories of the place, and I found the overall feeling to be accurate. We get a sense of the sadness and tragic history of the country, its current condition, and the wonderful warmth of its people (as portrayed by Sok, the cyclo driver, who is absolutely authentic).
Some reviewers have complained that Cambodia is portrayed too negatively in this film. However, the bad elements shown - brothels, mugging and beating, corruption, Generals building casinos, and the run-down condition of Phnom Penh - are real. The film is about criminal characters who are doing some "business" in Cambodia, so it makes sense to see these seedy elements. To put it in perspective: we see many movies that show Los Angeles as a gang-ridden city with daily drive-by shootings, but that is only one slice of the city. (I do encourage everyone to visit Cambodia - it is a fantastic and beautiful place - but be aware, and pay attention to the warnings in your guidebook!)
"City of Ghosts" does not sensationalize the seedy aspects of Cambodia. It merely shows them as part of the story being told. It does not get bogged down in the mud, but uses it as part of the backdrop of the story.
The comparison to "The Third Man" is interesting and relevant. It points out how, in our modern world, not only is "Harry Lime" (Marvin) corrupt and soulless, but "Holly Martins" (Jimmy) is complicit in the crimes. We also see that the crimes of Harry Lime have become institutionalized and common today, not only in the third world (Generals spend tax and aid money building luxurious casinos, while Phnom Penh still looks like a war zone after twenty-five years of peace), but in the United States ("City of Ghosts" opens with massive insurance fraud perpetrated in the U.S. by Marvin).
There is more depth to "City of Ghosts" than first meets the eye. Its understated style is deceptive. Rather than over-sensationalizing and over-dramatizing, it gives us something to think about.
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