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City of Ghosts
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by Matt Mulcahey

"Matt Dillon as a smooth-talking con man? I don't think so."
3 stars

Matt Dillon has made a career out of playing characters with less than dazzling intellects. Sometimes he plays likable blue-collar idiots (To Die For, Beautiful Girls), sometimes punk teen idiots (The Outsiders, Rumble Fish), sometimes comedic idiots (Thereís Something About Mary, Singles), but idiots none-the-less.

So what director would cast Matt Dillon as a slick, intelligent con man?

Why Matt Dillon of course.

And it is Dillonís miscasting that hampers this familiarly plotted yet engaging neo noir that owes much of its effectiveness to the Cambodian setting and atmospheric photography of Boys Donít Cry lenser Jim Denault.

Dillon plays Jimmy Cremmins, a cunning New York City grifter on the run from the Feds after an insurance scam gone awry. Ignoring the orders from his partner and mentor Marvin (James Caan), Dillon travels to Cambodia to collect his cut and contemplate retirement.

But movie criminals never quit that easily, and Caan dangles a new deal in front of Dillon, an ambitious casino development that has the backing of a dangerous former Cambodian general. Before Dillon can make up his mind Caan is kidnapped, with the list of suspects ranging from the general himself to the Russian mafia.

As a slick con man, Dillon makes a pretty good dim-witted thug. Luckily, the rest of the roles are more ideally cast, with Stellan Skarsgard oozing unsavoriness playing Caanís right hand man and Gerard Depardieu giving a demonstrative turn as the proprietor of a run-down bar and hotel.

Despite the heavyweight international cast, the filmís best performance comes from non-actor Kem Seneyvuth, a Cambodian taxi driver who won the role after trying to pick up Dillon as a fare.

Seneyvuth plays a cylco driver and family man, serving as the storyís moral center in an otherwise corrupt universe and as the catalyst for Dillonís journey toward redemption. Thereís also a peripheral romantic subplot involving archaeologist Natascha McElhone, who merely serves as an enticement towards Dillonís retirement.

The premise isnít exactly new, especially since The Coen Brothers have explored virtually every facet of kidnapping scenarios with more style, humor and originality than City of Ghosts, but considering the script is co-written by Lost Highway and Wild at Heart scribe Barry Gilford itís a minor miracle the plot makes sense at all.

If it had been set in New York, City of Ghosts would simply be another regurgitated neo noir, but on the rickety streets of Cambodia the film rises above the re-treaded material as Dillon captures the seedy corruptness of the impoverished country, where around every corner lurks a human vulture that feeds on money and longs to pick the bones of the weak and the vulnerable.

Dillonís ability to use the atmosphere and shaded details of the setting to combat the mediocre script earns him another turn behind the camera, only next time lets hope that Matt Dillon the director realizes the limitations of Matt Dillon the actor.

link directly to this review at https://www.hollywoodbitchslap.com/review.php?movie=7566&reviewer=255
originally posted: 06/25/03 04:36:02
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OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2003 Sundance Film Festival. For more in the 2003 Sundance Film Festival series, click here.

User Comments

5/30/04 joe south best damn expatriot film in years 4 stars
10/10/03 Gary GREAT 5 stars
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  25-Apr-2003 (R)



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