City Of Ghosts

on April 25, 2003 by Kevin Courrier
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Making his debut as a director, Matt Dillon weds some of the political and moral intrigue of Graham Greene ("The Third Man") with the nightmarish atmosphere of Conrad's "Heart of Darkness." "City of Ghosts" establishes a perfectly dreamy mood, but the story lacks the dramatic center needed to make it truly haunting.

Jimmy Cremmins (Matt Dillon) is an American insurance salesman, working for a bogus company, who gets singled out in an FBI investigation of fraudulent business practices. Meanwhile, his boss and mentor, Marvin (James Caan), has skipped the country and taken refuge in Cambodia. Jimmy decides to reunite with Marvin, despite Marvin's wishes, to help him set up a large-scale casino with a corrupt Cambodian ex-general. Unfortunately, Jimmy finds himself caught up in a web of deceit. "City of Ghosts" is about how Jimmy comes to face the corruption he's embraced.

The biggest problem with "City of Ghosts" is that Matt Dillon plays a character who lacks the emotional complexity of the story. The levels of temptation that operate in him are never made clear because he keeps coming across as a neutral observer. As a result, we don't feel the consequences of Jimmy's choices in life, and how they truly impact on him.

"City of Ghosts," however, is well cast. Stellan Skarsgard as Kaspar, Marvin's obsequious associate, gives the one great performance. He is so perfectly nuanced that we feel Kaspar's pangs of conscience much more soundly than Jimmy's. Gerard Depardieu is also charmingly grungy as the local barkeep. James Caan isn't bad as Marvin, but he is so cozy embracing corruption that he doesn't spook you. "City of Ghosts" is a good thriller that lacks the flamboyance to be truly great. Starring Matt Dillon, Stellan Skarsgard, Natascha McElhone, James Caan and Gerard Depardieu. Directed by Matt Dillon. Written by Matt Dillon and Barry Gifford. Produced by Willi Baer, Michael Cerenzie and Deepak Nayar. An MGM release. Drama. Rated R for language and some violence. Running time: 117 min

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