City of Ghosts (2002) Poster

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9/10
International Cast Gives PolishTo This Hidden Gem
ccthemovieman-12 May 2006
This is one of the few sleazy films that I've seen more than once and will continue to watch every couple of years. Perhaps it's just because I love the colors in here and it's a strange movie, a strange story in an exotic locale: Cambodia. Exotic, but you wouldn't want to live there, at least the parts shown in this film!

Although showing a lot of dingy city scenes, the Cambodian scenery was fascinating. I found the story to be, too, only if to find out what was in store next for the lead character played by Matt Dillon. There are so many bizarre characters in here, nobody that you can really trust, that it keeps you on edge.

Another odd thing about this film: it's quite a mixture of international actors: Dillon and James Caan, both from the United States; Natasha Melhone from Great Britain, Gerald Depardieu from France, Stellan Skarggard from Sweden and Kem Sereyvuth from Cambodia. The latter is the only truly nice person in the whole movie, playing Dillon's faithful guide, "Sok."

The movie, which plays like a film noir, gets a bit ugly at the end but is well worth your time.
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Holiday in Cambodia
sparklecat7 January 2004
Matt Dillon makes his directorial debut with "City of Ghosts", the moody tale of Jimmy Cremmins, a con man seeking redemption in Cambodia. Dillon's was the first film to be shot in Cambodia since the 1960s, and the unfamiliar setting contributes much to the movie's allure. "City of Ghosts" has a remarkable look and feel that lend it resonance and lead one to anticipate Dillon's further outings as a director.

The actors fit nicely into their roles and deliver strong performances. Sereyvuth Kem, a real-life Cambodian cyclo driver, leaves a lasting impression as Jimmy's loyal friend Sok. The film's soundtrack- a heady international collection of pop music mixed with Tyler Bates' evocative score - adds another layer to the already-rich atmosphere. Stick around during the end credits for some of the best exit music in recent memory.
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7/10
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
ruby_fff15 June 2003
Warning: Spoilers
"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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7/10
Excellent mood and atmosphere
chmilar9 June 2004
Warning: Spoilers
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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7/10
Gorgeous mystery is a solid debut for Dillon
snake7719 June 2003
City of Ghosts is a exotic mystery that positively oozes atmosphere. The Cambodian setting really amounts to another character in the film, and it's obvious that Matt Dillon has a real love of the country and the people. Dillon's direction and Jim Denault's cinematography do a marvelous job capturing the quirky and sometimes mystical nuances of this part of the world. Little details are woven into the scenes that really reminded me of what it's like to travel there.

Dillon did nearly everything right in tackling his first directing project. He picked an underused and exotic locale, a good production crew, and surrounded himself with top-notch, veteran acting talent. Depardieu, Caan, and especially Skarsgard do a terrific work bringing to life their shady characters. Newcomer Kem Sereyvuth does a nice job playing Dillon's taxi driver/savior Sok. Dillon's character Jimmy, ironically, is probably the least interesting of the bunch. But Dillon as always gets through on his amazing good looks, and has enough acting chops to not embarrass himself. The same can be said for Natascha McElhone who is so gorgeous it doesn't really matter what she's saying anyway.

The film moves at a somewhat slow pace, giving the story and characters lots of time to develop. Occasionally this can be an issue - sometimes time was spent on sequences that didn't contribute much to the final story. For example the opening New York scenes could have been trimmed down quite a bit and nothing would have been lost. But this film is clearly about establishing mood, and on the whole that's exactly what it accomplishes. The mysterious music and long, lingering shots of Asian street and country life are may seem indulgent to some but I thought they worked really well.

The only part of this film that I could take any real issue with was the script. Written in the film noir who-can-you-trust style, I think it would have been better if it had been simplified a bit. Credit Dillon with making the complexities mostly work, but a few less red herrings and a more dramatic final twist would have really elevated the film. However, I enjoyed City Of Ghosts quite a bit, Dillon has distinguished himself and clearly has some interesting directorial work ahead of him if he keeps at it.
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7/10
The third world without rose colored glasses
jmat26 February 2005
If all City of Ghosts was was a travelogue of postwar Cambodia it would be an accomplishment, but it is in its own way a well built film noir in a very unusual, very appropriate setting. Dillon's character goes to Cambodia to collect money from a real estate scam artist. Like the best noirs, what he finds has more to do with who he is than with any money.

Dillon is strong as the stories jaded, soiled hero. James Caan and Stellen Skarsgaard support well as the con men. And Gerard Depardieu provides strong support as a man who has apparently adjusted to living in hell. The movie starts a touch slowly but be patient. It's worth it. There isn't a lot of violence in this movie but what there is is fairly shocking.
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7/10
Arright, don't stone me... but I'm going to compare this movie to Casablanca
rooprect28 June 2013
I'm not necessarily saying it's as good as "Casablanca", but I'm saying there are some interesting parallels. "Casablanca" is probably one of the most atmospheric and characteristic films of the 20th century. It was one of the first films to sink itself into a dreamlike setting, drawing heavily on its location: a forgotten waterhole in the desert where Western exiles slog through their lives waiting for who-knows-what. "City of Ghosts" is filled with the same dreamy, surrealistic feeling but with a layer of grime and sweat that gives it an air of realism at the same time. Hats off to rookie director Matt Dillon for not only having the guts to attempt it but to succeed.

You may hear people, including Roger Ebert, calling the plot preposterous. A white collar hustler (Dillon) flees the USA and ends up in Cambodia searching for his enigmatic mentor who seems to be neck deep in bok choi himself. Sounds sorta like "The Color of Money" meets "Apocalypse Now", huh? Why not. Even Roger Ebert said the plot is not nearly as attention grabbing as the impressive setting, cinematography and mood.

"Cityu of Ghosts" is reportedly the first major motion picture to be shot in Cambodia since the 1960s, and Dillon & his filmmaking crew didn't skimp on finding the best settings. The locations can best be summed up by a line from the film when James Caan, who is occupying the ex-governor's estate, says "What do you think?" To which someone answers, "Could use a coat of paint" and Caan fires back, "The entire country could use a coat of paint." In other words, the locations are full of majesty and grandeur but with a raw, unkempt appearance that only add to the charm.

Some of my favorite scenes were at the tavern and hotel of innkeeper Emile (Gerard Depardieu), again reminding me of Bogart's "Rick's" in Casablanca. Depardieu plays a curious character, a tough guy who kicks thugs' butts while holding a baby under one arm. Among his staff is a trained monkey who steals from the patrons while Depardieu feverishly denies the monkey's existence. Haha, pure magic! Dillon himself plays a tough but clueless American who learns the ropes fast, while Caan plays a wiser type who seems to be on the verge of insanity with his delusional ideas. Both actors deliver.

The soundtrack is also worth noting. Subtle yet memorable, particularly a recurring piece called "Dear 5" by Peter Whitehead. Look it up on Youtube if you get a chance, it will give you a decent idea of the moody, atmospheric show that's in store for you.

Like I said earlier, don't expect to be blown away by the plot. Heck, even Casablanca had a pretty linear storyline. But what matters in this film is the presentation. In addition to "Casablanca" I would compare this film to "Witness in the War Zone" (with Christopher Walken) and an excellent Taiwanese gangster/zen flick called "The Drummer".
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7/10
Good directorial debut for Dillon, very independent arty suspense film
mstomaso21 June 2005
Matt Dillon co-authored, directed and starred in this medium-budget drama- thriller about a front-man (Dillon) and a con-man (Caan) connected by more than just an apprenticeship. The directing is very good, and the finished product is mostly polished and well paced. The acting is superb, with Caan, Dillon, Depardieu and Kem Sereyvuth giving memorable performances. The story line is also good, though not structurally original, and the script only fails in a few places. Part of the problem with the script may come from the fact that Dillon attempted to pack so much material into it - simultaneously making the protagonist a fully realized and sympathetic character and causing some important plot points such as those illustrating the developing romance between Dillon and McElhone to appear as little more than distracting loose threads.

Dillon and Caan have been working together since Dillon was nine years old. Both are con-artists pulling off elaborate insurance and development schemes, and Caan is Dillon's mentor. After one of these schemes goes bad, Dillon flees the US to try to find Caan in P'Nom Phen, Cambodia, where most of the story takes place. Just as Dillon manages to catch up with his mentor, things start to go much much worse, and the audience is caught in a shell game, wondering, to the end, who is conning who and how bad it might really get. All throughout this, Dillon's character is explored, developed, and grown into somebody markedly different from who he was at the beginning of the film. And the film ends up as much a character study as a thriller.

Some will likely find the lazy pace of this film grating. Others will be annoyed by the dialog-driven plot and the frequent pastiches of strangely alienating Cambodian scenery. This is a film which fits squarely in the independent art film tradition, and so, it won't appeal to most Hollywood action and crime drama fans. For my part, I was mesmerized by the soundtrack and Cambodian imagery, almost to the point that I no longer cared about the plot.

I'll look forward to Mr. Dillon's next film.
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7/10
'Oh no, not Matt Dillon'.............get over it.
detroit_techno31 August 2003
After reading some of the comments left by IMDB users I wasn't sure if I should actually waste a couple of hours by watching this film. After watching, though, I thought the comments were a little harsh.

Criticism's included under developed characters, thin plot, unexplained actions, and a poor performance by Matt Dillon. I am not, and never will be, a film studies student so I guess I am not 'qualified' to comment on any of the above, but in my own humble opinion the film progressed nicely and if people cared to watch carefully each action was easily understood.

If you can get over your immediate 'Matt Dillon, no thanks' attitude you may end up enjoying this film.
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8/10
Impressive debut
210west14 October 2006
Who'd have thought that Matt Dillon would turn out to be such an accomplished filmmaker? This feature film (his first as a director), which he co-wrote and stars in, is extremely atmospheric and has an intriguingly twisty plot, vivid characters, terrific editing (one nighttime scene, in which a minor character is unexpectedly stabbed, is especially effective), and a nice adult, amoral point of view. And it tends to avoid the clichés you'd expect in a film set in such exotic locales. It feels real. "City of Ghosts" deserves to be better known; I liked it a lot more, for example, than the much-overrated "Quiet American" remake.
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8/10
Just saw this on IFC and was really surprised at how good it is
socrates9914 July 2010
This is no masterpiece but it's well worth watching, especially for guys. I was transported back to my military days. The brothels, the shabby bars and 'hotels' are all real in memory. Matt Dillon directs and co-writes and as such manages to create many worthwhile scenes with the help of some heavyweight friends such as Gérard Depardieu and James Caan and Natascha McElhone. What I especially liked about it all was its freshness and ability to engross. The plot is not deep but it sounds more real then many others I've heard. Dillon is questioned when his boss for whom he's been selling insurance disappears with the money. He decides to go after him to Cambodia where there's extreme poverty and many unscrupulous men.
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7/10
An interesting film, worth a look
margaras30 May 2004
Set in Cambodia a generation after a bloody revolution and civil war, this film follows the adventures of a smalltime crook, Jimmy, who is tracking down an older man responsible for an insurance scam and who has absconded with the money. He arrives in a country full of gangsters and opportunist thieves - not knowing who to trust, he is robbed and beaten up as often as any hero of a film noir movie.

Modern Cambodia is depicted as a hell on Earth - with the exception of a rickshaw driver, Suk, the locals are shown as violent and untrustworthy. Once again a foreign locale is simply a backdrop for white villains to have a shootout. But this doesn't detract too much from a film that is in many ways a homage to "The Third Man", with Phnom Penh standing in for a ruined postwar Vienna, the Harry Lime-equivalent seedy and enigmatic, and the protagonist equally unsympathetic at first. Odd camera angles and flashback shots abound.

The love interest seems tacked on - and a reason for having a female character - but gives Jimmy an incentive to abandon his life of crime and go straight.

An interesting film, worth a look.
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9/10
The film noir continues
emuir-18 November 2013
How many films have we seen set in decaying far away third world locations, way beyond the reach of law and order and inhabited by the detrius of the Western World, each with a shady past and all living on the edge. These films usually have as their title the name of the city in which they are set, Casablanca, Algiers, Maroc, Hong Kong, Shanghai - as long as it is exotic and off the beaten track, City of Ghosts is no exception. In the 1940s it would have been named Pnomg Peng and starred Sydney Greenstreet, Peter Lorre, Gale Sondegaard, Marlene Deitrich, Hedy Lamaar, Jean Gabin and other favorites of the genre. All the requisite characters are there. All twisted, corrupt and ready to sell their own mothers at a snap of the fingers.

The French exile Emile, owner of a run down hotel and bar, who may have been left over from the French colonization of Indo China and has no home in France, or maybe he is an escaped convict, or a deserter from the Foreign Legion. Who knows, he might be any and all of these things. He knows his way around, understands his low life customers, who to deal with, which palms to grease and more importantly - when.

Other main characters comprise the not -quite-good guy around whom the story is built, the successful con man who might have gone in for one con too many, the corrupt general, the bar girls (boys) and of course, the decent clean western girl visiting old temples and naively treading her delicate way through the mud and filth.

Cambodia is shown as a near derelict run down ruin of a place, crumbling buildings, dirt roads, rubbish strewn everywhere, although there are some glimpses of lovely homes and attractive gardens. I was reminded of "The Quiet American", "Brokedown Palace" and "Beyond Rangoon" the westerner suddenly cast adrift in a very different world.

If you like to lose yourself in an intricate thriller set in foreign parts, with nostalgia for the film noir genre, I can recommend this film.
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Shifty plot, intense scenery
Chris Knipp19 May 2003
Warning: Spoilers
Jimmy (Matt Dillon) works for an insurance company that's investigated by the FBI with special focus on him after a storm disaster reveals the company can't pay the claims because the money in offshore funds has evaporated. He knows a guy named Melvin is behind this scam, which he's tied into somehow himself, and he skips the country to go to Thailand where he meets sweaty, nervous Casper (Stellan Skarsgård) in Bangkok, who tells him Melvin (James Caan, Dillon's real dad in the story) is in Cambodia. In Phnom Penh Dillon hangs out at a bar and hotel run by Gérard Depardieu and meets Sophie (Natasha McElhone) in the café outside when she's fighting with a creep who's stolen a Buddha from a temple. Dillon quickly loses his passport to another creep and his sunglasses are stolen by a monkey in his hotel room. Fat, sleazy Depardieu is always beating up on somebody or kicking some low level expat out of his bar. Dillon always looks wrecked and quickly gets beat up, but keeps his keen edge and trim physique in evidence throughout. Jimmy meets a nice cyclo (pedicab) driver named Sok who becomes his one trustworthy friend. A note sent him at the bar takes Dillon to a pretty nasty looking, but pretty authentic seeming whorehouse to meet Marvin, but he gets knocked out instead. Buddhist temples, monks, cute children, cyclos and exotic looking critters of all sorts are pretty thick on the ground throughout this film which gets an A for atmosphere, if nothing else.

Later Marvin arrives, saying the note wasn't his. It's James Caan, and that's a relief, since finally somebody onscreen seems relaxed and confident. Melvin has plans to team up with a variety of nasties, including an unctuous general, to build a casino out in the country 400 clicks from Phnom Penh. He's using the insurance scam money for this. Casper complains when Melvin gives Jimmy a paltry sum and tells him to scram. Jimmy sticks around, and so does Casper. Melvin has a meeting with his investors in some kind of dance hall out in the bush, which is very David Lynch, with very ugly people, grinning midgets, and Caan singing Karaoke in fluent Cambodian. They have to wait, but again Caan is relaxed, while his associates get lured outside and offed. Casper shows up and, seeing a corpse, flees in somebody's Mercedes. (Later Jimmy gives this car to Sok, who also winds up with a lot of the swag.) Jimmy has a history of cons, following the teachings of Melvin since he grew up, but he is determined to go straight now and turns into a real Robin Hood.

A small boy plunks a canvas bag with a lower leg and foot in it on Depardieu's bar with a note indicating that Melvin is being held for ransom. The rest of the film is about Jimmy rescuing Melvin after they've seen a scary videotape of two of the café creeps of the early scenes getting offed and Melvin with a bloody stump pleading for them to cooperate and bring lots of cash. Along the way Jimmy, who has been getting increasingly friendly with the chic, lovely McElhone, visits a temple with her where international hippies spend the night dancing and a druggie guy who travels with a blonde friend of Sophie's gets offed by a local who works for Casper. It turns out they were trying to get Jimmy. Russian gangsters, who appear only in lightning cameos, are also after Melvin for a payoff for the insurance scam.

Melvin has earlier had a suitcase full of dollars delivered to Jimmy, and now Jimmy takes this along in the Mercedes, with Sok and Casper, heading out to where Melvin is being held. The arrangements are made by the sleazy general and a large amount of cash is left in a Bo tree that's picked up by a small boy on an ox. At the end it all turns out to be another scam by the crooked general with collaboration from Melvin, who looks fit and freshly shaved and has both legs intact. They apparently wanted to get all the money back from Jimmy and escape from the casino deal, which has gone bad. Who really knows?

Jimmy follows the boy on the ox, and he and Casper wind up in a scene where the general, Melvin, and Jimmy all shoot at each other simultaneously with pistols, Tarantino/John Woo style. Casper runs off, Melvin is fatally wounded in the chest, and Sok comes back to help for the second or third time. Melvin dies in the Mercedes and Jimmy buries him in a river by sending out a canoe full of rocks and shooting holes in it. I didn't know you could do that. Jimmy goes off into the country to see Natasha-- he has gotten his passport back from Melvin -- and Sok comes home to his family in Phnom Penh with half the swag.

No doubt about the fact that this finale doesn't make much sense, except that the theme of breaking away from a sleazy father is brought to a close. The film has a high quotient of tense and nasty moments though, and the very lack of sense may help emphasize the very real craziness of an exotic, rather scary, very poor country as it would appear to an American just arrived there or coming back for a second visit, as Matt Dillon was. 'City of Ghosts' excels above most films in the vividness of its atmosphere, which blends 'Apocalypse Now' with David Lynch with literary overtones and still seems authentically Cambodian. Maybe Dillon isn't any more a great director than he is a great actor, but this project doesn't look conventional: it has some bite in it.
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8/10
This movie takes you away
begemot99927 April 2003
Yes the resolution of the movie was somewhat weak and contrived. But when I was sitting at the movie theater I was taken away to another place for the 2 hours that I was watching the movie. Having traveled in the third world I have to say that the movie captures perfectly the atmosphere of a place that is so far away that it could exist in another space and time as well as all the strange characters that tend to inhabit places like these. May be the movie does not do a good enough job of explaining things to those who have never visited a place with a different like Cambodia but I don't think it has to. Why do moviegoers expect the director to present everything neatly arranged on a platter? I was glad to go and see a movie that did not assume that I had no knowledge of history and no sense of what is happening in the Southeast Asia. While some of the characters may seem to be cliche I have actually met people like this while traveling. Local people are very friendly they have very tough lives but they open up in incredible ways if you try to get to know them as human beings. Part of the reason we go to movies is to be taken away. For two hours I was transported to a different world. Matt Dillon had enough sense to linger his shots to reflect the fact that times flows very differently in Cambodia. The contrast between the beauty and the serenity of Cambodia with the violence that goes there is great. I think the movie was absolutely magnificent (flawed but still beautiful)and one of the best I have seen in a long time.
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8/10
Great grown-up entertainment
jim-3142 November 2003
This film is a wonderful surprise. Matt Dillon has long been an underrated actor, and it appears that he can now look forward, sadly, to being treated as an underrated writer-director. (Sean Penn also gets the same sorry treatment for his terrific efforts at directing). For someone who started his career as a teenage pretty-boy actor, Dillon has taken a lot of chances over the years, playing some unsympathetic characters in offbeat movies. In doing so, he's developed into an ever more subtle performer with a naturalistic screen persona, an attractive slightly gravelly voice, an understated comic sensibility, and an even more arresting handsomeness than he possessed as a young man. His first film as director is a carefully observed, quiet, almost cerebral sort of thriller. It has a complex (but easily followed) plot in the long tradition of Western wastrels caught up in Asian intrigue. The movie is gorgeously photographed in exotic locations, rich in atmosphere, fun to watch (for its odd details and its plot), and packed with top flight character actors who work side by side with Asian non-professionals to provide a host of entertaining character studies. My major criticism is that the stunningly beautiful Natascha McElhone has little to do other than look stunningly beautiful. Dillon and his fellow writer Barry Gifford blessedly resist resolving the movie with chases and explosions that a less mature sensibility might have been tempted to tack on. This is an engrossing movie that provides "adult entertainment" in the best possible sense. It's a pity the movie didn't get wider theatrical distribution, but now that it's available on video, viewers who long for some old-fashioned, well-written, grown-up viewing satisfaction in a visually stunning package should check this out. It would make a great double bill with "The Quiet American."
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9/10
this movie was awesome!
filmjan23 October 2006
Don't know about the story and all. But having been to Combodia, all the crazyness makes a lot of sense! Great shots of the country and Dillon has got a really good feel for it. OK, the characters and parts of the story seem a bit far fetched. But knowing the country some of this stuff is not too far of! Great movie I thought! Some of the characters hanging around at that hotel are just like the people I saw back there. Also, quite a few amateur actors..which is really cool I admit though, If this film would take place in a country that I do not personally know I would probably not get much out of it. But in any way I think it is underrated lots.
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5/10
cool travelogue but ...
SnoopyStyle21 February 2016
Warning: Spoilers
Jimmy (Matt Dillon) sold property insurance but the company fails to pay after a hurricane. The police investigates. The offshore accounts have been liquidated. Jimmy claims to be a hired hand and the owner has disappeared. He goes to Thailand to talk to his contact Joseph Kaspar (Stellan Skarsgård). Their boss Marvin (James Caan) has disappeared with their cut. He is supposedly in Cambodia on the run from the Russians. He checks into a hotel run by Emile (Gérard Depardieu) but his passport is stolen. He comes to the rescue for Sophie (Natascha McElhone).

The story is flat and has no tension. It goes from one place to another for no particular reason. Presumably he could have called Kaspar but then he wouldn't be in Thailand. The stock characters are pulled from Graham Greene novels. This is much more of a travelogue. The movie has no movement or flow. It's a lot of waiting around in the first half. I love the foreign locations but there isn't anything more. Matt Dillon probably bit off more than he could chew.
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8/10
Good solid performance with added feel good factor. *Spoiler* (contains description of the ending)
bah_humbug19 September 2004
Warning: Spoilers
Summary - Matt Dillon goes to Cambodia to find his boss after an insurance con gets FBI attention. The subsequent journey he takes is one of relationships and character development, scratching the surface of cultural differences.

A pleasant well-paced story that is more about relationships and human interest threads than the superficial story of con artists. I found the music, particularly the use of local music, gave the story depth and a slight haunting theme. I particularly like the feel good ending that had me going away with a smile on my face, the last time that happened was after Shrek. There are some good secondary characters like Depardieu's drunken bar manager to add some well placed humour. Overall I would recommend this film for a unchallenging afternoons viewing, combining a decent reasonable story with identifiable characters that one can care about.
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Liked it!
a_ms20 April 2003
Dillon plays with a neat neo-noir style that harkens back (in a good way) to Carol Reed's "Third Man" (post-Khmer Rouge Cambodia this time instead of post-WWII Vienna). Like Reed's masterpiece, the set is littered with charmingly seedy eccentrics (Stellan Skarsgård and Gérard Depardieu--in one his best roles)--although James Caan is no Harry Lime (hard as they try with the belated enterance). I really liked the unpretentious FEEL of this movie. The suspense is there (atleast until the end) and I liked how it holds its focus despite all the subplots and chaos. The score is suitably offbeat (again, nostalgic of Anton Karas' "Third Man" zither). Cool movie.
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7/10
Tense and well acted
HotToastyRag2 August 2019
Warning: Spoilers
City of Ghosts was obviously a pet project for Matt Dillon, who starred in, directed, and co-wrote it. Given the setting, it's obvious to see how it could become a passionate issue, since it's difficult to un-know this type of information once you learn about it. As a political science major, I studied the horrors of international human trafficking, and City of Ghosts is unfortunately realistic. Granted, the film isn't about human trafficking, but while Matt wanders around the unsavory parts of town, he comes across many brothels that offer very young girls, showing that the filmmakers did their homework.

Matt stars as someone who has to leave America to track down his partner in an insurance scam, James Caan, to get his share of the money. While in Cambodia, he has trouble locating his "friend" and winds up in several dangerous situations. A street-savvy hotel manager, Gérard Depardieu, and a local, Kem Sereyvuth, who's nice with no reason to be, prove to be his allies, while Stellan Skarsgard and James Caan wind up hiding more than they're telling. Natascha McElhone is the love interest, and while she and Matt are very cute together, she isn't given very much to do besides flirt and look cute. Matt does the meat of the acting, which you'd expect since this movie is his baby. Ladies, if you love drooling over his pretty face, you'll want to see this movie, since his pretty face has quite a bit of screen time and quite a lot to do.

Gérard adds some edgy humor to the otherwise tense and creepy movie. When Matt checks into his dilapidated hotel, he complains about a monkey crawling around his room. Gérard hilariously chuckles, "No, there's no monkey in my hotel," giving the few audience members who remember his 1978 film Bye Bye Monkey a few laughs. When Matt puts his passport on the bar then asks for it back, Gérard gets the gleam of a swindler in his eye as he busies himself behind the bar and pretends not to know anything about it. Then, finally, "Oh, I thought you took it back." It's the sign of a seasoned actor who brings something new to each role, so even if you're renting this movie just for him, you'll be satisfied.

There is quite a bit of darkness to this movie, so be sure to have a strong stomach. It's not the most gruesome movie I've ever seen, but you will see some violence and a severed body part. Just a warning, but with Matt Dillon to look at, it's worth it, right?

Kiddy Warning: Obviously, you have control over your own children. However, due to violence, I wouldn't let my kids watch it.

DLM warning: If you suffer from vertigo or dizzy spells, like my mom does, this movie might not be your friend. There are some swirling camera movements while walking around in town, and the ransom video is filmed in a shaky, handheld camera that will make you sick. In other words, "Don't Look, Mom!"
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8/10
Don't be too critical, lose yourself in the movie.
rodeime29 March 2009
I first visited Phnom Penh in 2002, just after Dillon finished shooting the movie and was immediately taken with faded beauty and tragedy of the place.

I saw the movie for the first time after it sat on my shelf for a couple years and regret not seeing it sooner. I returned to Phnom Penh in 2009 and looked up Sereyvath Kem 'Srah' who played Sok. He is available for city tours and to the movie sites. What a lovely man.

Sure, the plot is a bit wobbly and thin, but the art direction and characters are enormous. I loved the film as much for its flaws as its strengths and it still haunts me like a good ghost should.

If you've never visited Phnom Penh (or a similar city) then it may be a bit hard to fathom. (To the critics) Maybe you need to get out more and see some of the real world and you'll realize this is a genuine film.

When I asked Srah about the criticism, he said plainly, "Movies must sometimes tell people the truth."
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9/10
a charming and very underrated film
Westcoastal20 January 2005
I am surprised to see this film has such an average rating, because it's certainly not average. it's beautifully filmed in southeast Asia and the settings are unromanticized, perfectly chosen and very beautiful. the music is perfect and the performances were very authentic. for me to get drawn into a movie in any real way I need to be able to connect with at least one of the characters. here I was interested in all of the characters, some of whom I found very compelling, and the relationships between them were very interesting and complex without being overly dramatic. in all it was a very genuine film.

Matt Dillon really surprised me here, having directed an excellent film and pulled off a very convincing performance. it's sad this movie doesn't seem to have gotten the attention it deserves.

highly recommended.
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9/10
amazing movie, I was very surprised
Gullevek19 March 2006
I was extremely surprised about this movie. My girlfriend rented it with a bunch of other movies and I thought this is a bit trashy B-style. But no, this was an amazing intense movie. You could really live with all the characters, you could feel the heat there, how helpless some of those characters are.

The movie starts a bit strange, you are not sure what it is actually about, but this gives this sort of "stick to it" feeling. You have to watch it. From that point on, you start to go with it. The struggle, the wandering, the great feeling of the shots. It makes this movie just amazing. You can really FEEL with it. It's very rare that a movie impresses me that much, but this one did it. This is a rare movie definitely worth to be watched.

If you are into these kind of darams, that are kind of sad, and do not end with the super happy Hollywood typical hero ending, then you have to check this movie out. I really highly recommend it.
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10/10
A great story
carmelovalone131318 July 2004
To me this film is good. Now I won't get too elaborate or pretentious, (as most writers or critics do on IMDb). What I liked about this film was that it was a simple con man story. Now a simple con man story is hard to do in my opinion, an almost impossible feat, so many people get caught up in the twists and explosions, and bs that the con man's life has to entail. Matt's role character is the, "wrong place wrong time sort of guy" (What a great line!) likable and looking for an out and a release from the 6 lifetimes of bad Karma. And that's what he does, there is a morality tale that isn't preachy or too expositional, that's just the way it is, you make your choices and maybe there's a bigger choice that's already made for you. The Cambodian landscape is a very "cracked windshield" sort of noir to quote Dillon. I really loved that he used his surroundings without fear. Bad luck for bad actions, in time working towards something inescapable, one's own choices to be a better person. Two thumbs way the hell up.
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