Friday, September 16, 2005

City of Ghosts (2002)

A Film Review

Copyright Dragan Antulov 2005

In light of current events many would argue that famous American actor Matt Dillon had real misfortune of releasing his directorial debut CITY OF GHOSTS at least three years too early. The beginning on this thriller's plot describes situation many of today's Americans can relate to - a disastrous hurricane has wrecked East Coast and for numerous families the insurance seems to be the only way to get their lives back together. However, many get unpleasant surprise when it turns out that Capable Trust Co. was nothing but a clever con scheme. Jimmy Cremming (played by Matt Dillon) is one of company's employees who, upon being interviewed by FBI, flees to Cambodia in order to find his boss and mentor Marvin (played by James Caan). Upon arrival, he slowly realises that Marvin has other problems than fleeing from authorities and that his quest for Marvin might get both men in trouble related to all sorts of nasty characters in and outside Cambodia.

CITY OF GHOSTS has dubious honour of being one of few low-budget films referred as box-office flops in recent memory. The critical response to the film wasn't more favourable. There are many reasons for that, but the most obvious one is Matt Dillon's directorial inexperience. It reflected itself in beginner's mistake of being too much in love with his work to do some necessary cuts. Because of that CITY OF GHOSTS is overlong and, at times, confusing. Dillon is, however, in love not only with his film but also with the country that gave him inspiration years ago. Few films in recent memory has captured a sense of place, its exotic sights and customs, as well as bloody history and slightly more peaceful present, with such precision and care for details. CITY OF GHOSTS, often referred as the first Hollywood production in Cambodia since 1965 LORD JIM, can be criticised of many things, but wasting locations and local talent is not one of them.

On the other hand, those who watch this film may ask Dillon why didn't he invest his talent into a documentary instead of injecting this fascinating setting with unconvincing plot and cliched characters. The acting is sometimes surprisingly good, especially when first-time actors Kem Sereyvuth (playing protagonist's sidekick) and Chalee Sankavesa are paired with veterans like Dillon or Caan. On the other hand, actors, like Gerard Depardieu and Natascha McElhone are wasted in unecessary roles, especially McElhone who plays protagonist's obligatory romantic interest. The ending, which appears too late, is predictable because it conforms to moralist and other storytelling principles of Hollywood. However, those who were patient enough to sit through this film are going to be awarded with memorable experience - sights and sounds seldom seen in contemporary Hollywood films.

RATING: 6/10 (++)


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