City of Ghosts

City of Ghosts
Film review by: Witney Seibold

City of Ghosts
            Actor Matt Dillon wrote and directed the film, but it was co-written by Barry Gifford, the man behind Wild at Heart, the Perdita Durango books, and co-author of Lost Highway. His writing style is glib, smirking, violent. Like a dirty, violent lovechild of Elmore Leonard and Tom Robbins. And it is in Gifford’s world, a world of hyper-noir if you will, that the film “City of Ghosts” takes place. A world of suave flat con-men, incomprehensible scams, and the occasional karaoke in Thai.
            Jimmy (Dillon) thanks to his involvement in an insurance scam, flees to Cambodia to find mob-mastermind and father-figure, Marvin (James Caan). He finds anything but. He finds his old friend Kaspar (Stellan Skarsgård) trying to stay in the loop. He meets an enthusiastic Brit (Natasha McElhone) who might know what’s going on with Marvin. He enlists a rickshaw driver (Kem Sereyvuth) for help. We even have a padded-up Gérard Depardieu playing a snippy bartender. Things kind of slog along for a while until we finally find Marvin. Marvin tells Jimmy to leave Cambodia. Then Marvin is kidnapped… I could go on, but it wouldn’t begin to gel at any point.
            But I’m getting ahead of myself. This film is admirable for its atmosphere and attitude. Matt Dillon, directing his first film, has obviously done his homework, and knows how to dress people, tell them how to act, and how to photograph the dingy underbelly of Cambodian cities. He and Barry Gifford have created a slick and bizarre crime atmosphere. The hyper-noir of Gifford’s novels, and Dillon’s passion for filmmaking are both obvious.
            Despite this, however, I found myself fighting to pay attention. The story, the events, the characters, they just smear quickly across the screen, not creating tension or building the story, but simply … transpiring. It was inert. Dead. Full of mood, and little else. Heck, even when James Caan begins singing in Thai to the dwarf pimp, it seemed surprisingly uninteresting and inappropriately confusing. I did not really enjoy the film, but from what I saw, I can’t wait to see Matt Dillon’s next film.

Published in: on May 28, 2009 at 9:14 pm  Leave a Comment  

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