City of Ghosts

Reviewed By wintermute
Posted 06/20/03 11:10:26

"Matt, I am your father"
1 stars (Sucks)

There - I just 'ruined' the entire film for you. Now you no longer have any compelling reason to waste 2 hours of your life having your iq reduced in front of this directionless, empty tale of one man's supposed moral evolution. In Cambodia.

This is Matt Dillon's first time directing a feature film, and his inexperience clouds every shot. Dillon plays a con man who escapes the US to hook up with his partners in crime, played by Stellan Skarsgard and James Caan. Big Daddy James has set himself up in Cambodia, of all places, getting all buddy buddy with an ex-general and the local money men. He tries to convince Dillon to re-invest his cut from their last scam into his new casino idea, but Dillon is all of a sudden a changed man - mostly due to the realisation that the people he screwed over in his last insurance deal are going to lose everything they had.

The trouble is, Dillon's character's newfound interest in integrity is never properly explained or developped. It just suddenly is. In fact, at the onset of the film, he appears as a wet behind the ears mark, some fresh-faced kid who got played by a master scam artist. This led me to believe that the film would focus on a revenge angle as Dillon sought out his former partner to get payback. Curiously, as soon as they are re-united, a sudden shift is made in character portrayal. Skarsgard's moves from paternal advisor to paranoid traitor, Caan from heartless scammer to big-hearted fuddy-duddy. Dillon floats between the two, alternately holding a knife to the throat of Skarsgard and then trusting him with his life. Scattered amongst all of this are pointless shots of monkeys, smiling children, crowds and foliage.

Gerard Depardieu makes a valiant attempt to escape from the inanities of his role as a hotel barkeep, but unfortunately, he is given far more screen time than his character can fill. The film realy starts to unravel after a bizarre episode at what can only be described as a Cambodian karaoke murder bar. People get kidnapped, innocents are murdered, and mine fields surround empty buildings on foggy cliffs. Oh, and that living skeleton, Natascha McElhone, puts in an appearance to scare the living hell out of me everytime she smiles.

The one somewhat interesting aspect of this film was its depiction of life in everyday Cambodia, which can be wrapped up in this simple phrase: "scary as fuck." Between kidnappings, beatings, prostitution, povery and corruption, Dillon painted a fairly grim picture of what it takes to get ahead of the teeming, dusty crowds that fill Cambodian cities. I have a number of friends who escaped Cambodia to make a better life here in Canada, and they can confirm that even as bad as things are now, they aren't nearly as terrible as they used to be during the long civil war that has dominated their century. The film does manage to convey a sense of a people caught in a transitional period, both econmic and cultural, and all that comes with that - crime, violence and uncertainty. Perhaps in that sense, Dillon's depiction of Cambodia expresses the mindset of his main character, particularly his choice at the end of the film. Sadly, Dillon's onscreen persona fails to achieve this.

People started to walk out about midway thorugh the film. Sadly, I chose to put on a brave face and take it full on the jaw. Avoid this film at all costs.

© Copyright HBS Entertainment, Inc.