City of Ghosts [2002]

Despite its brief theatrical release and dismal box-office returns, City of Ghosts marked an impressive directorial debut for Matt Dillon. While transplanting a film noir plot to exotic locations that John Huston might've found inviting, Dillon plays to his strengths as an actor, casting himself as a con artist with a guilty conscience, traveling to Cambodia to locate his unscrupulous mentor and partner (James Caan) and extricate himself from a career of bilking innocent victims. The dangerous territory includes a two-faced schemer (Stellan SkarsgÄrd), a burly French hotelier (Gerard Depardieu), and an alluring architectural restorer (Natascha McElhone) tossed in for obligatory love interest, and Dillon (with cowriter and Wild at Heart author Barry Gifford) creates an engrossing sense of escalating danger as his character sinks into a quagmire of personal and political corruption. Humid atmosphere and colorful scenery add depth and texture to the film's familiar pulp-fictional trappings, suggesting a promising new direction for Dillon's offbeat career. --Jeff Shannon

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