City Of Ghosts Movie Review
The question is whether he developed his story to take full advantage of the setting for Asian mystery (this is the first film shot entirely in Cambodia since 1964) and the cutthroat characters that people it -- at least in fiction. Unfortunately, writer-director Dillon evokes the color and the mystery without quite managing to create gut-gripping drama. The flaw is in the content.
Jimmy Cremming (Dillon) is earnestly selling insurance policies for his boss, Marvin (James Caan), when the FBI comes down on the company for defaulting on payments to policy holders after a hurricane disaster. They treat Jimmy like a suspect but are primarily trying to locate Marvin, who, apparently, has skipped out on his Russian partners and out of the country. Jimmy, oblivious of the Ponzi scheme that kept the company in business, is as pissed as anyone, more at the deception by a man who has always done right by him than for a missing paycheck. So, against the feds' instructions, he takes off to Phnom Penh, the capital of Cambodia, where his connections tell him Marvin is in residence. He needs to have a face-to-face with his boss.
His primary connection to Marvin is through Caspar (Stellan Skarsgård), Marvin's right-hand man and a person who knows a great deal about the king-pin's operations and whereabouts. Caspar arranges lodging for Jimmy at the crumbling Belleville Hotel, a less than posh set of rooms above a bar, run by Emile, an earthy Frenchman (Gérard Depardieu). Emile is essentially decent, but short tempered -- if not violently threatening -- with the Cambodian riff-raff that find harbor in his establishment as they scam for a quick buck from his clientele. Jimmy has entered a hotbed of lying, thievery, and worse.
From then on it's almost all criminal cohorts, high finance for a monster casino, threats from the Russians, plots and counterplots, revenge incurring revenge. Caan uses his frame-to-frame swagger to good effect as the American con man scamming on a global scale, making his bed with Cambodian criminals while maintaining a desire to protect Jimmy.
Dillon maintains a degree of screen presence, largely through a sense of vulnerability, but interest in him is scattered by a running time that is padded and a script that invokes clichés. Natascha McElhone turns it on enough to get the male jets going while Skarsgård is suitably bipolar in his strengths and allegiances. He defines the environment when he says, "The whole country needs a paint job."
City of Ghosts leads us through a set of agendas and lack of scruples against a decaying city in the heat and heart of the Asian continent. This is the territory and modality of Graham Greene, whose The Quiet American might have been Dillon's template for this venture into the exotic, though his hero's struggle for clarity while suffering assorted brutalities wears thin by story's end. Sympathies are not quite brought to the boil of caring, perhaps because of too much contrivance in the telling. But you do get a sense of estrangement and noirish atmosphere, which may be close to justifying the effort, if not the price of admission.
...in the name of love.
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