After a devastating natural disaster sends policy holders looking for assistance from their insurance company only to realize they’ve been swindled, the FBI steps in. Soon Jimmy (Matt Dillon), one of the deceitful crooks involved who fears he may have been hoodwinked along with the policy holders by his deceitful organization's bosses flees New York and ventures to Bangkok, Thailand where he sneaks into Cambodia.
Once in Cambodia, he checks into the Belleville Hotel, run by Emile (Gerard Depardieu), a tough Frenchman with his own sense of right and wrong and with the help of his driver Sok (Sereyvuth Kem), Jimmy meets up with his associates including the questionable Joseph Kaspar (Stellan Skarsgard) and his father-figure and mentor Marvin (James Caan).
Seemingly inspired by the works of Joseph Conrad and Graham Greene, City of Ghosts also owes a debt to old Bogart movies as Jimmy falls in love with a beautiful foreigner in the form of British art restorer Sophie (Natascha McElhone) and tries to navigate the treacherous terrain of his new homeland which he quickly realizes may be more deadly than the legal justice and outrage awaiting him at home.
Sharply photographed, Matt Dillon’s ambitious debut as a director which was also written by the actor along with David Lynch collaborator Barry Gifford (scripter of Wild at Heart and Lost Highway) at times suffers from its own aspirations as the plot becomes so convoluted and overwrought with each new double-cross and conspirator that it’s nearly impossible to wrap one’s mind around during the first viewing without pressing pause or rewind here and there to analyze events again. Though this situation seems crafted less out of intellectual awe than out of trying to pack too much plot into a film that overall, may not be as contemplative as it would hope. In this case, City of Ghosts begins to suffer from its own weight but its echoes of tales such as The Quiet American, The Year of Living Dangerously and To Have and Have Not help keep us watching. Despite its flaws, it's a terrific vehicle to spotlight the diverse talents of writer/director/star Matt Dillon and one that will surely make viewers who have followed his career for more than two decades see Dillon in a whole new light and look forward to his next creative endeavor.