April 2003
City of Ghosts

Reviewed by Wilson Morales

City of Ghosts
Distributor: MGM/ UA
Director: Matt Dillon
Screenwriter: Matt Dillon & Barry Gifford
Producers: Willi Baer, Michael Cerenzie, & Deepak Nayar
Music: Tyler Bates
Cast: Matt Dillon, James Caan, Natascha McElhone, Gerard Depardieu, Sereyvuth Kem, and Stellan Skarsgard


It seems like every actor wants to start directing now. Some take the high road and do something unconventional and some take the low road, helming a film with a cliched screenplay. From Nicholas Cage (Sonny), to Denzel Washington (Antwone Fisher), to George Clooney (Confessions of a Dangerous Mind), acting-directing is now the latest trend in Hollywood. Well, stepping out of Hollywood, but continuing the trend is Matt Dillon. It's been over 20 years since he made his mark as an actor in “The Outsiders” and now it’s his turn to do the same as a writer-director with his directorial debut, “City of Ghosts.” While his visionary aspects to the film are impressive due to its location, the story itself is jaded with so many plot holes, comprehension is lost.

Jimmy (Dillon) is an insurance salesman on the lam from the authorities when investors lose their money in a scam pulled off by his mentor and boss Marvin (Caan). Tracking him down wasn’t easy but his lead takes him to Cambodia. Staying in a shady Belleville Hotel owned by a Frenchman (Depardieu), Jimmy’s passport is quickly stolen and his shades are taken away by a monkey. His only comfort is the support he gets from a taxi driver named Sok (Kem) who guides him around town and alerts him of the dangers that lie ahead. When Kaspar (Skarsgard), Marvin’s business associates, shows up offering his aid to locate Marvin, Jimmy senses he may be over his head in his search. There’s another reason why Marvin fled which Jimmy realizes once his life is threatened. Archeologist Sophie (McElhone) proves to be a welcome relief for Jimmy, but as he gets closer finding Marvin and the truth, his beliefs and life are about to be shattered.

As a director, Dillon should be credited with shooting the film in Cambodia, which rarely happens nowadays. It’s beautifully shot, as the landscapes illustrate a once-forgotten beautiful place. As a writer, Dillon loses focus on the story as the main plot loses itself amongst the many characters and their little agenda. There’s no clear reason as why the character of Sophie is included aside from being the lone female in the film. Depardieu and Skarsgard are actually quite good in their supporting roles although there’s no character development. Caan is so resigned in the film; he’s merely a blip when he appears. The lone standout is Kem. Dillon wanted a real Cambodian to play Sok, and Kem came through with flying colors in his first time as an actor. “City of Ghosts” would be an interesting film to see for the cinematography and the supporting roles where it not for a confusing story that’s just messy and forgettable.