CITY OF GHOSTS
Review by Gordon Justesen
Stars: Matt Dillon, James Caan, Natascha McElhone, Gerard
Depardieu, Stellan Skarsgard
Director: Matt Dillon
Audio: Dolby Digital 5.1
Video: Anamorphic Widescreen 1.85:1
Features: See Review
Length: 118 Minutes
Release Date: October 28, 2003
was at the wrong place at the wrong time."
you seem like that type."
wrong place, wrong time type."
Some movies have a
distinct capability of making you feel as if you are nothing short of taken by
the atmosphere and all around feel of the story. City of Ghosts, an absorbing and ultimately atmospheric crime
thriller, is just such a film. After watching it, I became convinced that even
if there wasn't a consistently engrossing story going on, I'd still be overcome
by the look and feel of Cambodia, a place that, as far as I can tell, hasn't
been covered that much in cinema. With the help of this hauntingly beautiful
setting, Matt Dillon has constructed a much exceptional directorial debut.
The film is a pure
achievement of style over substance. The central plotline involves the usual
elements of a contemporary film noir, but that's hardly the reason to experience
this film. The setup, though, is most intriguing, as Dillon portrays shady
insurance company head Jimmy Cremming, whose insurance company is based out of
New York City. The movie opens with news footage of Hurricane Gabriel wiping out
a good portion of the East Coast. As Jimmy finds out about this, the first
thought that goes to his head is what he will do when the homeowners come asking
garners even more heat when the FBI comes to Jimmy asking questions concerning
the emptying of two offshore accounts belonging to an alleged overseas contact.
Though claiming to have absolutely no knowledge of the situation, Jimmy is soon
on the first available plane out of the country, and lands in Cambodia to meet
up with a longtime mentor and business associate. It's clear at this point that
Jimmy was indeed doing some shady business.
The associate in
question that Jimmy is searching to meet up with is Marvin (James Caan), who is
in fact the owner of the insurance company. He's been living in Cambodia for
some time, having left the U.S. in order to let this plan come into play.
Marvin's goal is to use all the stolen insurance money to build a hotel/casino
for the village residents of Phnom Penh. Little does Jimmy know that what lies
ahead is a series of unexpected turns and double crosses.
A good portion of City
of Ghosts is Jimmy's journey to locate Marvin's whereabouts. This leads him
to a few shady characters, including Emile (Gerard Depardieu) the uptight owner
of the town bar/hotel, and the ever so paranoid Kaspar (Stellan Skarsgard).
Kaspar is an alleged associate of Marvin's and insists to Jimmy that rival
Russian mobsters are also looking for Marvin. Jimmy also finds some unexpected
romance with the eye-catching Sophie (Natascha McElhone), who's an archeologist.
As I mentioned
earlier, the joy in watching City of
Ghosts consists of simply being swept away by the beauty and haunting
qualities of the atmospheric setting. Dillon shot the movie almost entirely in
Cambodia, where the only other movie to be shot there was 1965's Lord
Jim. From scene to scene, you feel as if you're right there with Dillon's
character, as he ventures from one hypnotic area to another. Having never been
to Cambodia, I can safely assume that my reactions to the goings-on would very
much equal that of Dillon's
Loaded with endless
style and a good enough story to hold our interests, City of Ghosts is superb revelation of Matt Dillon as a visual
filmmaker. Very few films are able to convey the simple feel of a place that is
largely unknown to most people outside it, and Dillon has accomplished this task
effortlessly. It adds up to a much memorable, and sense-startling experience.
MGM's transfer of
the beautifully shot film results in one beautifully perfected DVD transfer. The
glorious anamorphic picture embraces Matt Dillon's unique vision, along with the
stunning work of cinematographer Jim Denault, and the turnout results in nothing
but sheer beauty for the eyes. Image quality is at a constant high, with no
flaws detected at any point, along with the most vibrant of colors. Day and
night scenes both look tremendous. High marks all around.
The 5.1 mix
supplied by MGM hits the absolute perfect note for a cool, laid back thriller
such as this one. The highpoint of the presentation is the wonderfully haunting
music score by Tyler Bates, which also plays a huge factor in conveying the feel
of the atmosphere. Dialogue is delivered in strong clearness, and the brief
scenes involving gunfire play off nicely, too.
Included on this
disc is a commentary track by Matt Dillon and co-writer Barry Gifford. Also
featured is a soundtrack spot, a trailer, and bonus trailers for It
Runs in the Family, Together, and Dead