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
Matt Dillon's directorial debut is a film noir of intrigue and sentiments - "Both Sides Now" in a Cambodian setting, with strong cast: Caan, Depardieu, Skarsgård
"City of Ghosts" works like a film noir suspense thriller, Dillon and co-writer Barry Gifford also layered human drama into the mix. Gifford wrote the novel "Wild At Heart" 1990, which David Lynch adapted and directed; he also co-scripted with Lynch on "Lost Highway" 1997. No wonder I felt some (Twin Peaks-like) Lynch atmosphere when Caan and Skarsgård were at some remote location - kinda eerie and sinister with the camera approach suggesting foreboding elements a-lurking.
I like the film right from the start - intrigue is established in the prologue: the TV news, the simple and brief office scenes - within minutes we are given the backdrop to the story yet to unfold. We are following a mystery, right beside Dillon's character, Jimmy. We landed in Cambodia in no time. Good or evil, the enchantment starts.
It's wonderful to see the down to earth cyclo driver Sok, portrayed by local Cambodian Kem Sereyvuth - how the friendship between him and Jimmy evolved, developed, matured. Then there's Skarsgård, bringing some of his "Insomnia" insecurity aura with him, is the doubtful associate Kaspar. Should you, could you, trust or depend on him? Ah, Gérard Depardieu's Emile, one slick (business man) dual bar and hotel owner, who can handle baby, monkey, clients and hooligans all at the same time. It's one juicy role for Depardieu without even having to dress up - in the most casual of manners, he inhabited this man in subtle strokes of flamboyance. We get chuckles and humorous relief whenever we're with him.
James Caan, the veteran thespian, in his elements again. His character Marvin is a mix of "The Yard," "Mickey Blue Eyes," "Leaving Las Vegas," "The Way of the Gun," and "Godfather" savvy and then some. Is he a mentor cum father-figure who's protective of Jimmy, or could he be the disappearing real father to Jimmy? Contradictions, confusing sentiments, Jimmy has to sort out. Yes, love inherently beckons. Natascha McElhone provides that niche of an important ingredient to living - Jimmy is discovering himself and learning what's important in life through this journey. 'Both Sides Now' he's experienced, and yes, he may 'really don't know life at all' after all, but we have a clear blue sky shot with clouds - listening to Joni Mitchell's song, it almost seems like the film was plotted with her lyrics in mind. The song sung in Asian language gives a heartwarming hopeful feeling as the credits rolled.
Cinematographer Jim Denault seems to be a favorite with women Indie filmmakers - Patricia Cardoso: "Real Women Have Curves" 2002, Katherine Diekmann: "A Good Baby" 2000, Kimberly Peirce: "Boys Don't Cry" 1999, Jill Sprecher: "Clockwatchers" 1997. "City of Ghosts" must be a rewarding experience for him to shoot on location at Cambodia and Thailand, besides Canada and New York.
Bravo to Matt Dillon's persistence (6 years) in realizing this first film. MGM and United Artists were behind the production and distribution of the film. The official site provides interesting production notes.
John Malkovich's directorial debut "The Dancer Upstairs" came out the same weekend as Dillon's. "City of Ghosts" is more entertaining per se. Malkovich's film, in a way, is more cerebral with political tone; Javier Badem effectively portrays the empathetic police detective Augustin, who's a romantic at heart.
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