'City of Ghosts' *** 051105
DVD Review (2002)

The Work = ***
Matt Dillon co-writes, directs and stars in the drama 'City of Ghosts'. The film tells the story of an American conman who travels to Cambodia in search of a former partner. In the course of his journey he will come across many ex pats stuck in limbo in the country. They survive because of the super low cost of living and essentially live out their days sweating, drinking, and sometimes exploring the sex trade. It is to Dillon's credit that the film never for a second glorifies the existence. He gave me a look into a fascinating country that's poverty seems so sad. What's more the film shows how the lax laws and intense poverty is so easy for foreigners and locals with power to exploit.

I enjoyed the film but found it a bit on the flat side. It didn't help that the plot such as it is takes a background to the location and the characters. Yet the film works. For me it was the authenticity of the location combined with the solid performances of the actors involved that kept me watching the film. By shooting on location in Cambodia Dillon has a real location already. All that was needed was real characters to inhabit it.

My favorite character was played by the always wonderful Gerard Depardieu. He plays Emile, a man who runs a small dilapidated bar and hotel. (You pay extra for air conditioning that doesn't work.) Big and boisterous, he runs his business by fending off criminals and deadbeats while passing on local info to the paying customers. He reminded me of a rundown, low income Rick from Casablanca; the charm is still there but not the money or the location.

Actually I kind of wished that the film had been about Emile. I wanted to know how he ended up in Cambodia, why he was there and where he was from. It's interesting that with a minimum of scenes Depardieu is able to create a full and interesting character. To their credit the other actors create real characters with not a lot to go on. Kem Sereyvuth, who plays the stereotypical loyal sidekick local, turns his role into a real character that by the end of the film I genuinely cared for. James Caan, Stellan Skarsgard and the others bring a certain weight to their roles that helped to keep me engaged.

There are moments in the film that now seem more eerie than they may have when the film was shot in 2002. Sequences of characters kidnapped, videotaped, ransomed, and executed instantly brought to mind the current situation and recent events in Iraq. Actually the films style at times comes close to documentary and sequences in a brothel seemed very real. I wonder if this film were released now would play better in theaters? I suspect only if advertised right. This film is no thriller and can not be advertised as one, it is far too laid back.

The loose and sometimes confusing nature of the plot kept me from being really drawn in. I suspect that there are those who will really connect with this film and will love it for what it is. For me it was enjoyable and Dillon deserves credit for not exploiting or glorifying the situation in Cambodia but I just wasn't that moved when it was all over with. Certainly not a bad film, I give it a moderate recommendation.

DVD = ***

The Look
'City of Ghosts' gets an all around good transfer from MGM. The film is presented in 1.74:1 anamorphic widescreen. The picture looked clean to me and given it's low budget nature it seemed like an all around well done image presentation.

The Sound
There is only a Dolby Digital 5.1 track. The track sounded ok to me, all the dialogue and effects came through clearly. English, Spanish and French subtitles were also on the DVD.

The Bonus
The Primary supplement is a commentary track from Dillon and co-writer Barry Gifford. At first when I started listening I thought I was in trouble. Dillon didn't speak much in the beginning and when he did he often narrated what was going on in the film. As the tracked moved along it stayed fairly dry but there was some interesting info that came from Dillon and Gifford. It turned out to be not that bad a track with some interesting bits here and there. Dillon traveled across Asia and this film came from him having spent time in Cambodia. He also points out that the character Rocky in this film is a transsexual which I didn't even notice! Dillon never really stops narrating but he still makes an ok track. There is a soundtrack promo for the film that isn't really much of a promo. There is the film's trailer which made it look like a thriller which it is not. Any surprise that it didn't do well in theaters? Nope. Studios need to learn that misleading an audience is not a way to sell their films. There are also a few trailers for some other MGM releases.

All Together = ***
I enjoyed this film despite it not really grabbing me. It is certainly not for everyone. I suspect its fans will really like it but others may just be bored. I was somewhere in the middle. I liked it, didn't love it, but I recognize that Dillon has real talent and demonstrates he is a capable filmmaker. 'City of Ghosts' reminded me of a movie that could have been made in the 70s. Maybe something like the Bogdanovich film 'Saint Jack'. I give it a moderate recommendation, if you are just curious give it a rental.


'City of Ghosts' Links:


Copyright 2005 - 2012 Nate Bundy. All rights reserved.