City of God has been nominated for 4 Academy Awards, including Best Director. Unfortunately, on my way to see City of God, I accidentally saw City of Ghosts, an unimpressive though not entirely unfulfilling crime drama directed by Matt Dillon.
Dillon also stars as Jimmy, a man who has fled to Bangkok after becoming caught up in an insurance scame; there, he becomes reunited with his friend Marvin (James Caan), who is knee deep in other money-making ventures. Along with a guy named Kaspar (Stellan Skarsgard), Jimmy's chance for survival continues to lessen as the stakes get higher and the mystery grows deeper, especially when Marvin is kidnapped.
City of Ghosts has a good cast (James Caan standing out among the rest) that also includes Gérard Depardieu and Natascha McElhone who all make the presentation very easy to watch. Well-written by Dillon and Barry Gifford, everything works well on that front. Furthermore, this also marks Dillon's venture into theatrical directing, and he does a good but inconsistent job at it. Nice visuals and a good use of music make everything look good on the surface, but a closer look reveals some problems typical of first-time directors. Basically, the editing sucks. Some of the transitions are confusing when they shouldn't be, and at other times Dillon noticeably takes out chunks in the middle of scenes.
Still, the flaws in his directing are fairly minor, and the real problems that hurt the movie lie in the story. City of Ghosts has a lot of potential and at times is very engaging, but the ultimate story veers too far into dramatic territory for the plot at hand. Essentially, this movie is a crime thriller, but Dillon, wanting to land something heavier his first time around the block, tries a little too hard at making this a drama. The success of the movie basically comes down to the ending; with a good ending, City of Ghosts might be worth it. Unfortunately, the ending is anticlimatic, not to mention slow.
City of Ghosts has its moments and shows signs of a good director to come, but its execution just falls a little short.
Review by Erik Samdahl unless otherwise indicated.
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