Movie Review
Silver City
2004
Director: John Sayles
Cast: Chris Cooper, Richard Dreyfuss, Danny Huston
F


if you disagree with John Sayles' politics you probably won't like his latest movie Silver City. If you agree with his politics, chances are you too, won't like it.

In fact, although Sayles' political philosophy theoretically lies at the very foundation of this work, he has successfully rendered it entirely beside the point. That's because Silver City is just a bad movie. And there's nothing you can do to hide a bad movie, no matter how much earnest fist-waving you've done to express your concern for the fate of our nation at the hands of corrupt politicians, lobbyists, and developers.

Sayles seems to have embarked on a noble journey to illuminate the hypocrisy and corruption ever-present in our political process, specifically targeting the modern conservative movement, heartbeat of today's Republican party. To that I say, "Fight on, my righteous friend. Let's show 'em." But so caught up in some seeming higher purpose, Sayles, who also wrote and edited the film, has forgotten about the rest of his work: the acting, which is stilted; the dialogue, which is clunky and pained; the pacing, which is leaden; and a story, which is less exciting than Sayles thinks it is. Worst still, the political message—that one thing for which all else has been abandoned—is simplistic and obvious. Silver City has all the subtlety of a bumper sticker.


"And we knew that he had a notion of a concept of an idea to maybe possibly reconstitute some sort of weapons of mass destruction-related program activities, depending on whether Pluto was in the House of Venus during the Ides of March, barring the possbility that the infield fly rule was in effect."


The tale gets rolling with a candidate for governor in Colorado, Dickie Pilager (Chris Cooper). While filming a campaign ad, he discovers a dead body floating in his family's lake. Pilager is a son of privilege and suffers from many of the same linguistic and intellectual limitations that our real world President Bush does. It doesn't take long to follow the dotted lines and draw the connections. This will be one of many jabs at the current administration and Bush's failures—and lord knows, there've been plenty to jab at. More accurate than a Will Ferrell Dubya, but less funny, the Pilager character moves beyond parody, but barely and nervously so.

Pilager's Karl Rove-like handler Chuck Raven (Richard Dreyfuss) hires O'Brien (Danny Huston), a private investigator, to intimidate a few opponents into silence and find out if someone is toying with the campaign; five minutes in and it's already easy to see the gears turning. O'Brien goes from disgruntled character to disgruntled character, slowly uncovering a vast conspiracy, involving illegal immigrants, tobacco lobbyists, land rights, water pollution, abandoned mines, and of course, his own employers. The plot is rarely compelling and often contrived. Moreover, it's torturously slow.


"All things considered, I'd rather be in Philadelphia."


Pace can accentuate the positive and reinforce the negative. A solid movie that goes by too fast can disappoint. A measured and unhurried movie can be beautiful and engaging in all of its deliberateness. Sayles has shown us exactly that in his masterpiece Lone Star—a film that like his other works, the early Matewan and recent Sunshine State, were political without being preachy or patronizing. But Silver City is maddeningly easygoing when it should be getting down to business.

It's also a film that doesn't know what it wants. The movie could have been a witty and sharp satire, but like the worst of our nation's politicians, Sayles seems to have taken himself too seriously, believed too much of his own spin. It could have been a thrilling mystery, but any genuine intrigue is crowded out by a meandering and flat narrative. And it could have been a touching human drama, but most of the characters are less rounded than those in a Doonesbury comic strip.

It's too bad that in trying to capture the moment, Sayles reveals himself to be sadly out of touch. If Sayles wanted us to see a powerful, illuminating film, he should have re-released one of his earlier movies. If he wanted to influence this year's election, he would have been better off holding a voter registration drive.



By: Rob Lott
Published on: 2004-09-23
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