City of Ghosts
Starring: Matt Dillon,
James Caan, Natasha McElhone, Gerard Depardieu, Stellan Skarsgård,
MGM Home Entertainment
Date: October 28, 2003
December 1, 2003
a bogus insurance scam sparks an FBI investigation, front
man Jimmy Cremmins (Dillon) flees
to meet his mentor, Marvin (Caan). But Jimmy gets more
than he bargains
for when, against
a backdrop of raw, dangerous beauty and
ever-shifting loyalties, Marvin draws him into
a web of deceit and
murder from which there may be no way out!
plays a large role in City of Ghosts, the directorial
debut of actor Matt Dillon. Cambodia looks strikingly beautiful
at one end of the spectrum and gruesome at the other end. Dillon
and cinematographer Jim Denault capture an atmosphere of
timelessness, anxiety and compassion. The camera is usually
close to the actors, giving viewers an uninhibited view of the
characters. Almost every shot in the film is handheld, which
gives City of Ghosts a gritty feel and edge. Adding to
that edge is the score by Tyler Bates. It works perfectly in
conjunction with the film's atmospheric nature.
Ghosts consists of an ensemble of characters. They are not
cardboard characters or simplistic. They are interesting and
have depth. Dillon is the lead, playing Jimmy as a man who finds
himself among a group of callous people in a foreign country. At
first he's unsure what he wants, but as he spends more time in
Cambodia, meeting new people and finding out secrets, he finds a
purpose. Two of the supporting characters are sympathetic and
friendly, namely Sok (Sereyvuth
who gives advice and helps Jimmy get around Cambodia, and Sophie
an American woman on a trip to study Cambodia's monuments. Both
of these characters offer Jimmy a new perspective on life, which
in the end becomes a rewarding experience for all three.
Yet Jimmy also comes in contact
with some pretty unsympathetic people, those who betray and
cannot be trusted. Thirty minutes into the film we meet the
infamous Marvin, played very nicely by James Caan, the
mastermind behind the insurance scam that prompted Jimmy to come
to Cambodia and collect a share of the profits. Marvin is not a
villain, but his intentions are obscured. Stellan Skarsgård
plays Kaspar, a partner in the scam. He also recently got
engaged to a young woman. When complications occur later in the
film, he and Jimmy work together to solve the matter. Lastly,
Gerard Depardieu is Emile, a frenetic bar owner. Depardieu is
perfect for this part and he pulls of a very nice supporting
performance, one that is also funny.
The script for City of Ghosts
is good and likeable. Dillon and co-writer Barry Gifford
construct a story that intrigues, and the setting makes for an
interesting twist. However, the script becomes a little
unfocused in the middle part. Some scenes feel unnecessary and
don't go anywhere interesting. Dillon and his editor, Howard E.
Smith, could've cut the 117-minute film by at least ten minutes
or so without compromising the story or tension. A few passages
in the film also move a bit slow, but overall the pace is pretty
good. Yet these are minimal nitpicks for most of the script is
well-written. Character interactions are realistic and drive the
story. The subplot involving the Russians works as intended, but
a little more substance would've increased the tension. The last
20 minutes are especially tension-filled and atmospheric.
City of Ghosts marks an interesting debut by Matt Dillon as
a director. He's created a film with great atmosphere and
photography, while tension and intrigue mount every fifteen
minutes or so. Dillon has also surrounded himself by a really
good cast. In a way the actors form an ensemble, which works for
very good effect. City of Ghosts is a recommended rental.
City of Ghosts in 1.85:1 anamorphic widescreen. Colors
are pretty vibrant and well-saturated. The color palette is very
nicely composed of dark blues, deep blacks, yellow tones, and
others. The film presents a very natural and earthy look. The
cinematography aids the video presentation by presenting some
great visuals. Color detail is pretty decent, and sharpness is
both crisp and well-defined. Compression artifacts do not
appear, although minor edge enhancement and little grain does.
The print quality is pretty clean except for a few specks.
However, these minor problems do not affect the viewing
City of Ghosts in English 5.1 Dolby Digital
Surround Sound. Dialogue scenes are clear and easy to
understand. They are also nicely reproduced across the two front
channels. Surround usage is minimal most of the time. Not a lot
of emphasis is placed on making the sound effects come alive
through the rear speakers. The sounds that exist, mostly people
and cars passing on the streets, can be heard just fine, just
not from the surrounds. Sometimes the rear speakers act up,
which is better than nothing. On the other hand, Tyler Bates'
effective score is nicely accentuated in this soundtrack
presentation. Audio quality could've been better, but it's just
fine as it is. A decent presentation overall.
Also featured is a French 5.1
Dolby Digital dub.
Aside from including a very nice
video presentation, MGM's DVD doesn't offer any great extras.
The main extra is an audio commentary by Matt Dillon and
co-writer Barry Gifford. They talk about the story and the
production. Some comments are interesting, others are kind of
dry. Both men are well-spoken, however. Overall, it's a decent track, but
not terribly interesting. A soundtrack spot and the
film's theatrical trailer round out the special features.
select to view the film with optional English and French
subtitles. The 117-minute feature is organized into
Ghosts is an interesting debut by Matt Dillon as a director.
The film is effectively gritty with mostly hand-held
cinematography, yet it's a bit unfocused in the latter half.
Video quality is very good, audio is decent. Except for a decent
commentary, the extras are severely lacking. Fans of Dillon
should check out the film as a rental. Others who like the genre
might want to look into a rental also.
(not an average)