July 1, 2005
John Sayles, ,
Starring: Mario Bello, Thora Birch, David Clennon, Chris Cooper, Alma Delfina, Richard Dreyfuss, Miguel Ferrer, Daryl Hannah, Danny Huston, Kris Kristofferson, Michael Murphy, Mary Kay Place, Tim Roth, Billy Zane, ,
John Sayles is one of America’s rare political filmmakers, from the corruption in professional baseball with Eight Men Out (1988) to environmental concerns with Sunshine State (2002). Like, Michael Moore’s Fahrenheit 9/11, Sayles released his movie, Silver City, just before the volatile 2004 American Presidential election. Silver City was perceived by critics during its release as an attack on George W. Bush and dismissed as being too obvious. It was ignored by audiences in favour of Moore’s more compelling documentary.
While filming an ad for his upcoming run for Governor of Colorado, Dicky Pilager (Cooper) uncovers a dead body. His aide (Dreyfuss) suspects that it is one of Dicky’s opponents trying to sabotage his campaign. He performs damage control by hiring Danny O’Brien (Huston), an investigator, to figure out who the dead body is, who killed him and if it is an attempt to sink Dicky’s bid for Governor. But as Danny digs deeper, he finds out more about Pilager’s past and the shady links to a ruthless businessman (Kristofferson) who wants to develop the surrounding land into a gigantic skiing resort.
At times, Silver City feels less like a movie telling a story than a movie trying to push an agenda. It is a message movie with its murder mystery as a façade. As always, Sayles has written an intelligent script that tackles several complex issues and juggles a large ensemble cast reminiscent of one of his finest films, Lone Star (1996) and one of his most underrated, City of Hope (1991). It is elements from these two films in particular that Silver City attempts to marry. From Lone Star he takes the murder mystery subplot and mixes it with the socio-political culture clash from City of Hope. However, he wastes his impressive cast by sacrificing any kind of meaningful characterization to deliver the film’s message. We never get to know any of the characters. All we get are impressions, sketches drawn of each.
Chris Cooper plays Pilager as a thinly-veiled parody of George W. Bush complete with his folksy, down-home Texan accent and dim-witted conservative ideals. Pilager is all image and no substance. He seems to believe his political platform even though he has trouble articulating it without his spin doctors. He is able to get to a position of power because he surrounds himself with people who are smarter than himself. It is an uncanny bit of imitation but with little depth or characterization.
Silver City tends to come across as too preachy at times with characters spouting off at length about their political views. It feels too pedantic. Sayles is telling us too much when he should be showing us. It’s too bad because the mystery subplot is intriguing and the movie is at its most compelling when Danny investigates the murder and uncovers the state’s dirty laundry, like illegal immigration employment.
There is an audio commentary by John Sayles and the film’s producer Maggie Renzi. She says that Silver City cost only five and half million dollars to make while Sayles mentions that he shot the film on Super 16mm—a true low budget, independent movie. They both speak intelligently and at length about shooting an ambitious movie like this one on a small budget.
Also included is a theatrical trailer.
Finally, there is “The Making of Silver City” featurette that runs 34-minutes. Sayles started thinking about this movie after the Bush-Gore election in 2000. The cast talk about their characters and crew members are interviewed. They talk about their love for the material because they weren’t getting paid that much.
While I admire Sayles’ intentions with Silver City, it falls apart in its execution. It feels as if he’s trying to make his own version of Robert Altman’s Tanner ’88 (1988) but just couldn’t successfully blend the political satire with the murder mystery.