Only a couple scenes of City of Ghosts were actually shot in Cambodia & in the main, Thailand stands in for Cambodia. The first 45 minutes have a sluggishness that made it sometimes tempting to give up & watch something else, but patience did eventually pay off.
Matt Dillon is a scam artist committing insurance fraud, but has trusted his partner (James Caan) to handle all the loot, only to find he must track down his partner in Southeast Asia.
So much of the story was a noirish throw-back to the Bogart era, though the supporting character actors were not sufficiently up to snuff to entirely carry off the retro intent (not even Gerard Depardieu was in top form).
The old black & white films of "oriental" adventure were often quite marvelous if a little racist in their easy assumption that Asian settings are invariably hotbeds of criminality & corruption with nothing redeeming except exoticism. City of Ghosts takes that same derogatory vantage point, but attempts to balance this built-in genre flaw by making Dillon's driver (Kem Sereyvuth) such a sympathetic & moral character with much more to do than be the hero's guide.
But about midway through the film it began to provide insinuations of humanity, & by the ending what began as cold-hearted & distant was downright sentimental.
The last third of the film is so good that it almost makes up for the sluggish half to two-thirds, though I worry many viewers failed to stick it out to the finer conclusion which even gives meaning to the earlier heartlessness of the film's tone.
I stuck it out because I knew it was all meaningful for Matt Dillon personally, who directed & co-wrote as well as starred in this film. I wanted to trust this actor cum director who I admire so much, & glad that by the end my trust was rewarded. This is vaguely ironic in that the film was itself in great part about trust & mistrust.
copyright © by Paghat the Ratgirl