Matt Dillon does a fairly admirable job of directing his debut in this darker film set amongst the backdrop of deepest Cambodia.
Jimmy is a nice guy. After seeing the news of a hurricane ripping through a province his insurance company covers, he gets to work to discover there’s no money to help the people affected and the FBI smells trouble. Jimmy’s clean however, and decides to pursue the issue himself in Cambodia, where his partner Marvin (James Caan) was last seen.
Upon arrival he discovers a poor country under the grip of rival gangs and warlords where Marvin has actually disappeared. It isn’t long before he appears on a grainy videotape that accompanies a human foreleg. Marvin is being held prisoner for the vast sum of money he apparently has, and Jimmy must decide, for various reasons, whether to pay for his release or not.
Dillon and Caan turn in their usual dependable performances here filling out this rather full story. But while being full, it also finds time to be devoid of fullness in long empty shots of landscape and meaningless everyday moments that add to the overall emptiness of the atmosphere of this decaying nation. There is, though, a terse air of believability here; nothing moves fast, people are slow to act or get involved (if at all) and life is inherently cheapened by the lack of law or police. Dillon paints a gritty portrait of a place where people end up as they drift down life’s gutter, finally ending their days here in squalid despair.
It works well as a slow-moving thriller, with a few twists here and there to keep it alive and pique our interest enough to maintain attention and this contributes well to the feeling generated by the setting. Nothing happens fast, but it happens forcefully when it does.
For those who like their thrillers a little more slow in their approach with a couple of twists we aren’t expecting, this is a good way to spend just under two hours on a Friday night in front of the teev. While it may be a little slow for some tastes, there is still much to enjoy if given a chance to get its hooks in.
Not much to complain about here. About the only real fault is in some good to moderate shadow detail and that’s hardly a big issue. It fluctuates back and forth throughout, which is mildly annoying, but there’s not much going on in the shadows during these moments to be too concerned with.
Otherwise the 1.85:1 ratio with anamorphic enhancement looks great with natural tones and colours throughout. Also of note are some fabulous handheld camera moments and an overall beautifully shot movie.
Again, not much to complain about here. The Dolby Digital 5.1 surround sound is just fine and while having some nice moments of surround, is mainly confined to the awesome musical soundtrack. This has a very ‘wordly’ feel reminiscent of the score to Dead Man Walking with a lot of local instruments thrown into the mix. While having occasional tracks included, the score is definitely much better and suits the film impeccably.
Dialogue is mostly well spoken and usually understood, although Gerard Depardieu does tend to run words together a little. Sound effects too are fine and fitting with no discernable stock usage.
Matt Dillon’s directorial debut shows us he’s more than just a formidable talent onscreen. With a storyline penned by the author of other notable films Wild at Heart and Lost Highway, City of Ghosts is much the same in that avant-garde and slightly skewed vision of our reality. Anyone enjoying a slightly different thriller from the regular mainstream cinema release will find themselves a rather well made film here that is quite beautiful to look at and even a little haunting. City of Ghosts even boasts a small part played by Australian actor Rose Byrne to sweeten the deal.
This is a fairly solid film that anyone willing to settle themselves in for a couple of hours should enjoy.