out of Five
Running time: 129
Sayles’ films are always interesting and this is a worthy, intelligent and watchable drama but ultimately both the performances and the mystery get lost in the laboured attempts at political satire.
Not to confused with Sin City, Silver City is writer-director-editor John Sayles’ 15th feature film in 25 years. It is similar to several of his previous films (Lone Star, City of Hope, Sunshine State) in that it features a politically-oriented plot, a fine ensemble cast and a script that crackles with well written dialogue. However, despite noble intentions, the film often loses its way in an attempt to cover too many bases.
The film is set in Colorado and stars Chris Cooper as senator’s son Richard Pilager, who is running for governor. When a body is found in the lake during the shooting of Pilager’s promotional video, his shrewd campaign manager (Richard Dreyfuss) springs into action and hires private investigator Danny O’Brien (Danny Huston) to lean on a few enemies whilst they try and cover up the incident.
However, Danny’s journalistic background gets the better of him and he soon uncovers endless political chicanery involving illegal immigrants, corporate backhanders and the dumping of toxic waste.
As the name “Pilager” indicates, the satire is none too subtle at the best of times. Pilager himself (nicknamed “Dim Dickie” by his handlers) is an extremely obvious carbon copy of George W. Bush and Cooper does a terrific job, mimicking Bush’s speech and mannerisms as well as his tendency to ramble and go off script with hilarious consequences. (In fact, Sayles recently admitted that a lot of Pilager’s lines were lifted from early Bush speeches).
Huston exhibits an infectious charm as rumpled idealist-turned-cynic; he occasionally recalls Elliot Gould’s turn as Philip Marlowe in Altman’s The Long Goodbye. Similarly, Richard Dreyfuss makes a strong impression and Daryl Hannah is superb as Dickie’s bitterly estranged sister.
The Support Cast
However, several other actors get frustratingly relegated to the sidelines, which has the unfortunate effect of reducing their characters to mere celebrity cameos. The worst casualties of this are Miguel Ferrer (as a sharp-tongued rightwing radio host), a bald Billy Zane as a smooth-talking spin doctor, Maria Bello as O’Brien’s exasperated ex and Tim Roth and Thora Birch as a pair of Drudge Report-style website whistle-blowers.
Roth at least gets a decent speech, but it’s painful to see Birch –in her first film in four years- reduced to a mere two scenes.
Silver City raises some important issues, such as environmental destruction and the political abuse of illegal immigrants; it also draws some interesting parallels with the Bush administration – for example, Pilager is seen as being in the pocket of a wealthy industrialist, played by Kris Kristofferson. However, it is also much too long and drags considerably in the middle section.
In short, Silver City is worth seeing if you’re a fan of Sayles’ work, though it is frustratingly disappointing in places and his Altman-esque, somewhat rambling approach doesn’t fully exploit the potential of the material. Incidentally, if you are a Sayles fan, you may want to check out his previous film, Casa de los Babys, on DVD, as it inexplicably didn’t get a release over here.