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21 of 22 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Matt Dillon was brilliant
Having co-written the script and starred in the film, Matt Dillon was brilliant in his directorial debut with "City of Ghosts," which was filmed principally in Thailand and Cambodia. Surely, during the Academy Award-nominated actor's long and successful career, he will be recognized fully for his many talents. The movie was beautifully filmed, and the editing is...
Published on August 4, 2006 by Timothy D. Naegele

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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Matt Dillon explores Cambodia's darker corners
An uneasy, yet intriguing, brew of Joseph Conrad, Mario Puzo and Raymond Chandler, "City of Ghosts" is Matt Dillon's entrance into directing, and it fits him well, even if the movie flew far under the radar upon its release. Mossy with atmosphere, the story of three con men in Cambodia is overstuffed at two hours, yet the central theme of American crime vs. third world...
Published on January 20, 2004 by Samuel McKewon


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21 of 22 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Matt Dillon was brilliant, August 4, 2006
By 
Timothy D. Naegele (Washington, D.C. and Los Angeles) - See all my reviews
(REAL NAME)   
This review is from: City of Ghosts (DVD)
Having co-written the script and starred in the film, Matt Dillon was brilliant in his directorial debut with "City of Ghosts," which was filmed principally in Thailand and Cambodia. Surely, during the Academy Award-nominated actor's long and successful career, he will be recognized fully for his many talents. The movie was beautifully filmed, and the editing is terrific; and there was fine acting as always by James Caan, Natascha McElhone, Gérard Depardieu and Stellan Skarsgård--with wonderful supporting actors too, including Kem Sereyvuth (as "Sok") who had never acted before, but was a "natural" in Dillon's words.

Unlike so many films that have been shot on foreign locations, this one really allows the viewer to feel and absorb the locales and their seedy underbellies. Regrettably, after all of the work that went into this movie, its widest release in the States was 20 theaters, and its domestic gross was a mere $357,197. Nonetheless, it has offered Dillon the opportunity to showcase his talents, and to work with world-class actors in the process of doing so--which is a tribute to his professionalism. It is not every day that such talented ensemble cast members join in a risky undertaking like this, at least financially.

Dillon has the potential to become a fine and established director in the future, just as actors Clint Eastwood and Mel Gibson have done before him. His camera angles, his cuts, and the palette that he lays before his audience are both creative and sumptuous, to say the least. A wider audience should have seen "City of Ghosts" worldwide; however, DVDs and sources such as Amazon.com and Blockbuster Online allow this to happen today. Dillon should be immensely proud of what he accomplished with this film--and that comes across in his very interesting, wonderful and informative commentary with respect to how the film was made, which is included in the "Special Features" section of the DVD. Well worth listening to, and watching.

And finally, James Caan's karaoke singing is a joy to watch. He seems to add something special to every role that he plays.
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16 of 18 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Exotic, Atmospheric, and Sometimes Nihilistic Thriller, November 2, 2003
This review is from: City of Ghosts (DVD)
Jimmy (Matt Dillon) sold disaster insurance in New York until a federal investigation made it clear that his company was engaging in fraud, selling insurance with no intention of paying on claims. Jimmy knows where his boss, Marvin, can be found, and he travels to Cambodia to track him down. Marvin (James Caan) is laying low and working on his next business venture, trying to entice a powerful and corrupt Cambodian general to invest in a resort complex. A business associate of Marvin's, Kaspar (Stellan Skarsgard), may or may not be trying to help Jimmy, but is becoming increasingly anxious about getting his share of the loot from the insurance scam. The situation goes from uneasy to harrowing when the constant scheming and backstabbing of these Western con men becomes intertwined with the lawlessness of a post-war Cambodia. And it begins to look as if no one will come to a good end.
If my description of this film's plot seems incoherent, it is because the story's complexity and sinuousness make it difficult to recount. "City of Ghosts" was co-written and directed by actor Matt Dillon, who also plays the lead role in the film. Dillon's inexperience at both writing and directing show in this film. He has chosen an especially complex piece of material to direct. Plus, he has co-written it with Barry Gifford, which makes it difficult to see flaws in the writing and correct them in his on-screen interpretation. The film is littered with cliched characters: Down-and-out Westerners hanging on in Southeast Asia, one a cripple, one a burly bartender (Gerard Depardieu), and a couple of junkies. A humble and loyal local man, Sok (Kem Sereyvuth), who aids our protagonist and provides the moral to our story. Jimmy, a man who thinks that he cannot be redeemed but seems to really want to be anyway. And there is a love interest (Natascha McElhone), whose sole purpose in the story is Jimmy's said redemption. "City of Ghosts" is heavy on atmosphere and convolution, but light on substance...usually. It has flashes of depth. The film's emotional climax is more of an anti-climax. That may actually be realistic, but it doesn't fare well on film.
I'm giving this movie 4 stars because, in spite of its faults, it is very successful at certain things: The supporting performances of Stellan Skarsgard and James Caan are excellent. We see very little of "Marvin", but Caan embodies this man who has been driven by self-aggrandizement his whole life and who is perpetually one scam ahead of his many enemies. Caan only needs one scene to give us an understanding of Marvin's entire self-image. And I have to conclude that Stellan Skarsgard can play any character to perfection. "Kaspar" has a confused and confusing criminal disposition. He is desperate and unstable. He doesn't seem realistic. But Skarsgard lends him a palpable presence anyway. Jim Denault's cinematography is beautiful. Cambodia is picturesque, but I was most impressed and perplexed by Denault's masterful methods of dealing with the apparent lack of good light in many of the film's scenes. The most striking feature of "City of Ghosts" is its ability to generate the near-constant uneasiness that one feels when submersed in a culture very different from one's own: The feeling of slight panic that comes with realizing that the basic assumptions and value systems that underlie your understanding of the universe at home may not apply here. This is, of course, intensified when things start to go wrong. I've never seen a film that conveyed this emotion so authentically and consistently.
So I'm recommending "City of Ghosts" for its excellent supporting performances, its cinematography, and its "uneasiness". Producing discomfort turns out to be a good thing in this case. Narratively, the film is flawed. If you're looking for a good story, this probably isn't it. But if you're willing to pick out the gems from among the clichés and misjudgments, I think "City of Ghosts" is worth the time. If Matt Dillon can retain the strengths of this film and learn from its faults, he has a future as a director.
The DVD: Bonus features include a theatrical trailer and audio commentary by Matt Dillon and Barry Gifford, who is the film's co-writer. Subtitles are available in English, Spanish, and French. The audio commentary isn't bad, but the commentary I would have been most interested in in this case is the cinematographer's. It's unfortunate that he doesn't appear at all in the extras.
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7 of 7 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars How did I miss it in the theatres, October 20, 2004
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This review is from: City of Ghosts (DVD)
I thought this movie was excellant. I did not see it at any theatres in Florida but after renting it at Blockbuster I bought two copies, one for my girl friend and one for her daughter. I thought it was that good!

The plot and the action were fantasitc. I found out that this was Matt Dillon's first crack at directing. He did a wonderful job and he clearly falls in to the catagory of "great directors" and not just a pretty face any longer. I loved it!
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9 of 10 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Great Movie!, March 29, 2007
This review is from: City of Ghosts (DVD)
Its a shame when I don't see a movie for quite a while just because it doesn't get the respect it deserves. This is a great crime drama. Its no soft drama either, it will keep other types of viewers interested as well. A story about a group of individuals connected only through their criminal activities can only turn out violent. Just the amount of distrust being spread around is entertaining enough.

Of course there is one true friendship which developes and is quite endearing throughout the movie. Sort of a guardian angel type of relationship that feels rewarding amongst all the deceit.

And the locations are perfect, there couldn't have been a better place to have this story take place. Its like the frosting on the cake. You will want to see how it all comes together and who survives. Buy this movie, support well made films not just the ones Hollywood blows out it's arse.
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Matt Dillon explores Cambodia's darker corners, January 20, 2004
This review is from: City of Ghosts (DVD)
An uneasy, yet intriguing, brew of Joseph Conrad, Mario Puzo and Raymond Chandler, "City of Ghosts" is Matt Dillon's entrance into directing, and it fits him well, even if the movie flew far under the radar upon its release. Mossy with atmosphere, the story of three con men in Cambodia is overstuffed at two hours, yet the central theme of American crime vs. third world corruption - the attraction of the two to each other, and their eventual incompatibility - emerges fiercely in Dillon and Barry Gifford's co-written script.
"City of Ghosts" opens with an insurance scam. A hurricane belts the East Coast, and thousands of policyholders are left stranded by a phony company that sucked up their premiums and then laundered the money. At first it seems Jimmy (Dillon) was a fall guy hired by a shadow CEO: He presents a viable cover story to the FBI, which the feds buy.
A day later he's headed to Southeast Asia to locate Marvin (James Caan), the CEO, who's working a new deal to build a casino in Cambodia, recently liberated after the reign of Pol Pot. Marvin's new partner, Casper (Stellan Skarsgard, Hollywood's resident shady fellow) is working his own angle with a few of Marvin's former marks.
Although the table is set for a quick-n-dirty foreign thriller of double crosses and exoticism, Dillon spins the material against its natural bent and toward film noir. Upon Jimmy's arrival in Phnom Penh, the Cambodian capital, Dillon is intent on getting us comfortable with the surroundings; some of it works - the brothel scene is oddly alluring - and some of it reeks of prestige padding. Gerard Depardieu has a large role as a crooked motel owner that's colorful but unrelated to the central story. Natascha McElhone is Jimmy's half-hearted love interest, an art scholar of Cambodia's ancient ruins. There is a local bike porter (Kem Sereyvuth), two petty thieves, an Oddjob hitman, three Russians, a monkey, two more art hippies and a retired general from the Pol Pot regime playing both sides of the casino development scheme.
Caan, second billing behind Dillon, has a rather small role as the goofily detached Marvin, who seems less a criminal mastermind than a creep out the wild, playing head games. A sudden event midway through "City of Ghosts" accounts for the character's relative absence from the picture, but Dillon never finds the approach to paint Marvin as the Kurtz-like figure he'd so much like him to be; introducing Caan to the picture in long shot, dancing with girls, isn't exactly effective for Marvin's mystery.
Yet there is enough to recommend. I like Skarsgard's performance - what suspense there is, he creates by just seeming worried - and Dillon, as usual, fits believably inside his character, in this case the tough-but-not-so-wiseguy. There is an authentic brutality to the picture - kidnappings, innocent victims, offhand violence - that Dillon has visited throughout his career as an actor. The crackerjack plot lacks a little snap, but an ominous languor fills the void. Lush, but mindful of the singe of murder still in the air. Cambodia has earned its rough beauty.
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5 of 6 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Extremely powerful movie telling the tale of a Ponzi scheme fugitive, June 7, 2007
By 
Pork Chop (Lisbon, Portugal) - See all my reviews
This review is from: City of Ghosts (DVD)
CITY OF GHOSTS is an extremely powerful movie, telling a story that

will pull the audience's intellectual, moral, rational and emotional

strings, but may lie outside of the grasp of the younger audiences,

with lower IQ's.

The strengths of this picture, is its no-nonsense, mature approach in

telling the tale of a Ponzi scheme creator, an insurance company that

had no underlying reserves and no intentions in paying any claims

that could arise from the policies underwritten. These were popular

from their under-priced competitiveness, sold by Matt Dillon. Of

course, when a hurricane hits Florida, the Carolinas, and people

submit claims for their losses, the owner disappears, leaving many

home owners destitute, the company decapitalized as all $10 m of

premiums were funnelled into the Cayman Isles and Swiss numbered bank

accounts, beyond the reach of regulators.

Matt Dillon and James Caan, demonstrate extreme acting skill, and

credibility, with a subtle, meaningful presence throughout the 90

mins. Natasha McElhone has a natural, shining presence playing an

archeologist.

The cinematography is simply excellent, in all filming situations,

night, day, action scenes and not, with a quasi-wide screen release

that is sharp, clear and well edited.

The soundtrack is also equally outstanding, with immense discernment

in the numbers selected, in the many tense moments. It is able to

enhance a multitude of emotions, and moods set in the film, some

reminiscent of the Louis Armstrong style in the saloons, other times,

popular music from Cambodia, and Thailand, were the entirety of the

film unfolds.

Intelligently, the script touches upon the various foreign heritage

of the area, with Gerard Depardieu playing a hotel owner and barman

in Phnom Penh (French colonial presence), shows one or two burnt out

former US military, and a group of "rave-scene" party goers from the

UK and USA doing tourism.

Wisely, the Director chose to film the more historical aspects with

many artistic shots and choices of streets, its people, merchants,

ancient ruins, cultural practices, etc. Seeing taxis in the form of a

tri-cycle pedaled by human power or other taxis on a low cylinder

motorcycle engine with a single passenger seat will be intriging, as

are the hotels with baboons climbing the windows, or snakes and

elephants in the streets.

An aspect that will worry the audience, throughout, is the morality

and the character of the individuals who are comparable to quicksand.

The characters dealing with those who ran the Ponzi, and laundered

the profits (Russian mobsters), often think they have a firm footing,

only to be later fooled, as double crossing, houses of mirrors are

put up to trap unsuspecting marks, in or out of their own

organization.

The Third World status nature of those locales is reinforced, as the

film shows still existing mine-fields, devastated farm

infrastructure, high ranking officials leaking the identities of

incoming visitors arriving at the airport to the mobsters, corrupted

law enforcement. The fact that those powerful government officials

are all military underlines that those are not democracies.

The poverty aspect is not hidden. The lack of safety in public

streets, against kidnapping, random brutality from thugs is not

surprising, since no city is safe at all times, in every single

place, especially for tourists.

Some aspects, may be difficult to stomach for some audiences, such as

executions, kidnapping, ransoms, or the absolute power of those

holding cold hard cash in a nation with a big disparity of incomes.

Clearly, this story will leave the audience in the theatres immensely

satisfied in having been taken on this dream-like voyage, showing the

horrible human consequences of certain wrong choices, in this case,

the embezzlement of funds.
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5 of 6 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A rare sense of place for a plot driven film. Well done., February 27, 2004
This review is from: City of Ghosts (DVD)
Matt Dillon directed this film, and was also one of the writers. He stars in it too.

The film starts in an aftermath of a hurricane on the East Coast, with interviews of people who have lost their homes. We soon become aware, however, that the insurance company on which they depended, and which is based outside the United States, has no money to pay the claims. The investigation finds Matt Dillon running the insurance company's New York office and it seems that he is completely innocent. Suddenly, though, he takes off for Bangkok and then on into Cambodia in search of the man who was behind the scam. His relationship with the top guy, played by James Cain, is complicated though and, as the story moves along, the plot thickens.

Gerard Depardieu is cast as one of those expatriates who runs a sleazy hotel in Cambodia. His performance shines and this is clearly the best and most convincing role in the film. Everyone else, including a local Cambodian who helps our hero and a blonde babe archeologist who Dillon romances, are just there to help the setting of the fast moving, but impossible plot.

In my opinion, though, the star of the film is Cambodia itself. The cinematography was great and I came away with a sense of place that is rare in a plot-driven film. The story did hold my attention, as there were some interesting twists and turns of the story and was generally well done. As it wasn't targeted to an audience looking for an artsy or meaningful film, it definitely fulfilled its limited purposed. Every film does not have to be an Academy Award winner. Some are just for pure entertainment. And for that reason, this film gets a modest recommendation from me..
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars The exotic locales and its director make it worth watching.., November 2, 2003
This review is from: City of Ghosts (DVD)
With CITY OF GHOSTS, actor Matt Dillon makes his directorial debut and, before this, I almost forgot how much I actually could like the guy. Other than THERE"S SOMETHING ABOUT MARY and his supporting role in DEUCES WILD I feel like I haven't seen Dillon all that much. CITY OF GHOST S made me actually want to see more of him. He's a talented actor and it really should come as no surprise that he eventually wound up behind the camera after working with such directors as Francis Ford Copolla (THE OUTSIDERS) and Gus Van Sant (DRUGSTORE COWBOY).
The film follows Jimmy (Dillon), an amoral insurance scam artist who, when the FBI shows up asking questions, hightails it to Cambodia to hunt for his supervisor, Marvin (James Caan), who may also be his legitimate father.
It isn't the story of CITY OF GHOSTS that is remarkable though. It's not that there's anything wrong with the story but, all in all, the film's story is somewhat predictable. Aside from the exotic locales the film doesn't really break any new ground. What is remarkable is Dillon's talent in the director's chair and his ability to capture the picturesque beauty of the film's foreign locales (the film was really shot in Cambodia). That's what makes it such a pleasure to watch. You really feel as if Dillon's character is a stranger in a strange land because he as an actor really is and that keeps you involved with the story throughout, even if the film could have benefited from being trimmed down a good twenty minutes or so shorter.
CITY OF GHOSTS also stars Gerard Depardieu (THE MAN IN THE IRON MASK; 1492), Rose Byrne (TWO HANDS; TROY), Natasha McElehone (THE DEVIL'S OWN; SOLARIS), and Stellan Skarsgaard (RONIN; DEEP BLUE SEA).
C
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5 of 6 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars This is a good fil, January 9, 2004
This review is from: City of Ghosts (DVD)
I met Matt Dillion in a small French bar at 3 am in Siem Ream back in '98. I guess he was considering doing this film and getting a feel for the country.
The movie give a pretty good idea of what Cambodia is like back in the late 90's.
If you want action this isn't the movie for you but I enjoyed it enough to watch it several times and to also go and buy a copy.
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4 of 5 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars An Excellent Film, But Not For Everyone: Underrated!, October 23, 2006
By 
Ernest Jagger (Culver City, California) - See all my reviews
(REAL NAME)   
This review is from: City of Ghosts (DVD)
"City of Ghosts" is a very good film. It is much better than I was led to believe from so many other people I know who viewed the film. More importantly however, is that this film is from first-time director and star Matt Dillon. Jimmy (Matt Dillon) is a con man who hurriedly travels to Cambodia. He does so because he and his elusive partner Marvin (James Caan) have just swindled money from the insurance company they run. With disaster claims piling up, and the U.S. law enforcement agents hot on his heels, he decides it is better to seek out his partner and collect his share of the money while he can. However, Jimmy is in for more than he expected. [Guess he never watched "The Killing Fields"].

Cambodia is shown in all its squalor; and the hardships of life the people must endure in order to survive in this very poor country are not lost on the viewer. There is an odd assortment of foreigners in the country that Jimmy meets while staying in a Hotel; which was once in its more glorious times, under French occupation, a high class place. But Cambodia has fallen on very hard times for many years now, and the ameneties we take for granted are not to be found here. Emile (Gerard Depardieu) runs the hotel, and he is a very quirky man by nature. However, it is the character of Joseph Kaspar (Stellan Skarsgard) whom Jimmy meets and strikes up a semi-friendship with that is the center of the story.

There is more to Kaspar and Jimmy's partner Marvin, than Jimmy realizes. And it is here that Jimmy confronts a lesson in life he will soon not forget. One of the mains reasons I liked this film was the countryside and the Cambodian people themselves shown in the film. And also the way in which the conditions of Cambodia were shown. No need for special effects here. You get everything: from the feel of the people, the nature of corruption, and hardship that life in Cambodia must be like. Moreover, after viewing the film I was impressed with how a first-time director was able to pull off such a difficult feat.

Matt Dillon was able to shoot this film in Cambodia and did so in a very touching way. The music is haunting, as is the picture, and I left the theatre afterwards with a feeling of sadness. Afterall, this is Cambodia were talking about. The country is as chaotic today, as it was in the past. Albeit not to the same extremes as Pol Pot and the Khmer Rouge, which tore the country apart. Nonetheless, the difficulties must have been tremendous. And for a first time director, Dillon pulled it off wonderfully. I recommend the film with caution, it may not appeal to all viewers, however, I thought the film was great.
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City of Ghosts
City of Ghosts by Matt Dillon (DVD - 2003)
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