"Silver City"
Dir: John Sayles

Patricia Ducey

The Real Campaign is Better

John Sayles’ latest film opens on a fictitious Colorado gubernatorial candidate named Dickie Pilager (Chris Cooper) filming a campaign ad at a pristine Rocky Mountain lake. The ersatz environmentalist and Dubya-like Pilager (read pillager) can’t recite his lines and cast his fishing line at the same time and fumbles take after take. Suddenly something heavy tugs at his line. As the stunned crew looks on, Pilager slowly reels in a dead body. His campaign manager Chuck Raven (read Rove), ably portrayed by Richard Dreyfuss, deduces improbably that the murdered man, a Hispanic immigrant, somehow turned up dead as part of dirty opposition campaign tactics, and immediately hires gumshoe Danny O’Brien (Danny Huston) to track down and warn a list of usual suspects. O’Brien, a former journalist (read hero) soon learns what is obvious to everyone in town but him: the Pilagers and their cronies are mendacious political opportunists. Armed with this “insight,” he solves the murder/accident, rescues his self-esteem and wins back his former love Nora (Maria Bello) another hero/journalist who nonetheless has thrown him over for Billy Zane’s sneering lobbyist (read Snidely Whiplash) for no apparent reason except to provide a B story line.

John Sayles is at his best when he chronicles the tragicomic lives of ordinary people, as in The Return of the Seacaucus Seven, Sunshine State, or Lianna. Silver City, however, burns with a heartfelt big message. But after the first minute or two of Cooper’s stammering drawl and the machinations of the reptilian Raven, we get it. Sadly, the movie lasts another hour and a half.

Sayles forces a social message film, like his Matewan, onto a noirish mystery, ala Lone Star, to create Silver City, but the result never gels. Ultimately, the dead man doesn’t have much to do with Pilager’s campaign, but in the meantime Sayles’ characters lecture us on the environment, billionaires, tobacco, workplace safety, immigration, media hypocrisy, TV advertising, to name a few. The love story doesn’t make sense, the plot points don’t add up, and the ending feels tacked on.

Sayles works again with his favorite actors like the talented Chris Cooper as well as veteran cinematographer Haskell Wexler, perhaps most well known as writer and director of the ‘60s anthem Medium Cool, a movie worth renting. The ensemble cast does its best to enliven the piece, especially Sal Lopez as Tony Guerra, Danny’s assistant investigator, and Miguel Ferrer as a bug-eyed, vein popping, right wing radio host who’s not as crazy as he seems. In the end, though, movie mogul Sam Goldwyn’s famous aphorism rings true: "If you want to send a message, call Western Union." The film lacks the compelling characters of a drama like Lone Star or even the crazed energy of Fahrenheit 9/11. I admire Sayles’ work and it pains me to say it, but Silver City’s message is a couple of years too late; even its jokes fall flat, because we have heard and seen it all before.

-- Patricia Ducey

Copyright Web del Sol, 2004

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