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Reviews » DVD Video Reviews » City of Ghosts
City of Ghosts
MGM // R // October 28, 2003
List Price: $25.98 [Buy now and save at Amazon]
Review by Matthew Millheiser | posted December 10, 2003 | E-mail the Author
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The Movie

City of Ghosts represents the directorial debut of actor Matt Dillon, who co-wrote the screenplay with Barry Gifford. The film begins with news footage of a Class 4 Hurricane bearing down upon a coastal community. Homes are decimated by the natural disaster, but the harried residents feel confident that, while their houses have been destroyed, their Disaster Insurance should take care of their damages. Unfortunately, they were sold fraudulent policies from their insurer, whose owner Marvin (James Caan) has fled to Cambodia. Jimmy, the insurer's senior sales executive (Matt Dillon) is investigated by the FBI, who rules that he "comes up clean" and, as an innocent dupe, had nothing to do with the fraud. Jimmy soon finds himself in Cambodia to track Marvin down. It turns out that he was in on the scam all along, and is now looking for his piece of the cut.

So begins City of Ghosts, a compelling, well-acted, and satisfying if flawed film from first-time director Dillon. The film features an absolute first-rate ensemble cast, including Dillon, James Caan, Gerard Depardieu, Natascha McElhone, Stellan Skarsgård, and Kem Sereybuth. The film features some fine cinematography that brings out the exotic best of the Cambodian countryside. Dillon's direction is generally well-handled if occasionally shaky. The main problem in the film is a general lack of focus pertaining to the film's overall plot. The film is nearly two hours long, and could use some rather judicious editing. The film tends to sag and meander in its middle section, and it takes awhile for the film to regain its footing. But what City of Ghosts lacks in flourish and overt style, it recovers in its evocative tone: the film feels gritty, dirty, and realistic in a way that never seems forced or artificial. City of Ghosts may not be a perfect film, but it earns marks for attempting to paint a smart, world-weary, and gritty setting while allowing its suspenseful storyline to develop.

The DVD

Video:

The video on City of Ghosts is quite remarkable. Presented in its original widescreen theatrical ratio of 1.78:1 and anamorphically-enhanced for your widescreen viewing ecstasy, the picture demonstrates remarkable depth and vibrancy. Color schemes are bright, lush, and vibrant, with sharp contrast levels that resonate with stunning brights and deep, rich blacks. Shadow delineation demonstrates reasonable levels of structure and detail. The image displays exhibits sharpness and clarity, although a few scenes occasionally come off as soft and underdeveloped. The transfer was mostly clean, but there was occasional evidence of speckling and wear on the print (a pronounced vertical line is visible during several seconds.) There is no discernable compression noise or telltale pixellation.

Audio:

The audio is delivered in Dolby Digital 5.1. The overall delivery is predominantly centered in the front stage, resulting in a pleasing if not overly aggressive or immersive experience. Dialog levels appear to be concisely rendered, with a remarkable amount of warmth and clarity. The front stage is spaciously developed, demonstrating a strong field of depth and concise directionality. Surrounds are used sparingly for background and ambient noise, and LFE activity is minimal. This is a solid and acceptable audio delivery.

Extras:

The City of Ghosts DVD contains a feature-length audio commentary with actor/co-writer/director Matt Dillion and co-writer Barry Gifford. While the tone of the track is decidedly low-key, Dillon and Gifford offer an informative commentary which provides plenty of production anecdotes and background details about the various locations, settings, and actors. They also delve deeply into the genesis of the project and its eventual production, and Dillon's remarks are surprisingly candid and personal. There is also a soundtrack spot which is little more than a short advertisement for the soundtrack album. Rounding out the supplements are the film's theatrical trailer as well as trailers for other MGM releases, including It Runs in the Family, Together, Bulletproof Monk, Nicholas Nickelby, and Dead Like Me.

Final Thoughts

While not without its flaws, City of Ghosts remains a generally compelling and worthwhile film. As a first-time director, Matt Dillion acquits himself well as a filmmaker with promising storytelling skills. With its remote locations, gritty and hard-hitting subject matter, and strong pedigree of acting talent, City of Ghosts remains generally intriguing, although its various flaws detract from the film's overall quality. Nonetheless, for a lower-tier release MGM has put together a worthwhile package for fans of the film.

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