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Overall Rating
3.02

Awesome: 15.22%
Worth A Look: 17.39%
Average: 28.26%
Pretty Bad32.61%
Total Crap: 6.52%

6 reviews, 10 user ratings


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Silver City (2004)
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by Erik Childress

"Just Because You Hate Dubya, Doesn't Mean You Don't Need A Second Draft"
2 stars

SCREENED AT THE 2004 TORONTO INTERNATIONAL FILM FESTIVAL: Filmmakers can sometimes trap themselves into either repeating thematic elements or trying to cram in EVERY element they can. Spike Lee is a frequent victim of his own ambition, crafting screenplays whose main threads often get drowned out in social statements and multiple sub-plotting. John Sayles loves his multi-layered ensemble pieces, all practically playing like anthologies with a common thread. He’s no stranger to politics, race relations, corporate interference and development and he shoves it all into Silver City. Unfortunately, this time out he’s a stranger to narrative clarity, striving for the Chinatown of modern political movies and winding up with an unfocused mishmash of his earlier efforts.

Eager to get on the Dubya-bash bandwagon, Sayles gives us a Colorado candidate for Governor with the none-too-subtle name of Dickie Pilager (Chris Cooper). Like our current President, Dickie is at less than a loss when it comes to speaking off-the-cuff and is described as “a draft dodger, mama’s boy and a dimwit.” He also has a powerful Senator father (Michael Murphy), a Karl Rove-like handler named Chuck Raven (Richard Dreyfuss) and a number of outsiders who would like nothing more than to knock him off his perch.

One of them may just have something to do with the corpse found in the lake that Dickie snags with his fishing rod while shooting a campaign ad. It’s doubtful that anyone is guilty of planting a dead body, but Raven lives in the world of dirty politics and if he wouldn’t put it past himself to do it, why shouldn’t turnabout be fair play? He hires investigator Danny O’Brien (Danny Huston, son of legendary director John) to do some digging and to put a scare of Big Brother into three names on a list. They include a left-wing radio host (Miguel Ferrer), a miner with a grudge (Ralph Waite) and Dickie’s embarrassment of a sister (Daryl Hannah).

Several problems with this approach begin with O’Brien being about the least intimidating human being on the planet, partially evidenced by Huston’s amazingly awful performance. He’s like an unemployed family friend thrust into an office he’s not only unqualified, but unfamiliar such a job existed. Oh, the irony. Sayles has given him background and motivation up the wazoo including a recent break-up, an old break-up (Maria Bello) and a profession that had him disgraced even while being in the right. Huston is at an absolute loss.

And so is Sayles apparently who asks his audience to be intelligent and keep up with his bouts of Hurricane Charley longwindedness, yet has O’Brien vocalize the obvious. Looking at a calendar spelling out his gal’s moving plans, he spouts “She’s been planning this for two weeks.” When he hires a local to snoop around and finds that his tires have been slashed, he pontificates, “Somebody is fucking with me.” Yeah, the director. If Raven reminds O’Brien, “you were the boy who cried wolf. It was in all the papers,” then why on Earth is it a surprise to him when he’s informed that he was a former reporter.

Sayles certainly has his own stake as a concerned citizen in this backroom deal economy. Check out the spots he’s directed for MoveOn.org if you doubt it and his unease is certainly worth exploring. It’s disturbing that a politician’s personal friend like CEO Wes Benteen (Kris Kristofferson) can bail them out of anything for a favor to be named later or buy up a news outlet so they may report his slanted views. Only in our America can lobbyists turn tobacco companies into the underdog. Is that because the media has stopped reporting it or because we’ve stopped being interested in the little guy?

Sayles is treading over old territory here and keeps getting stuck in the mud as opposed to the mud-raking. Corporate interference and development in the face of environmental concern he’s already thrown at us in City of Hope, Limbo and Sunshine State (to name just a few.) The plight of immigration was handled more perceptively in his greatest work, Lone Star, and so was the mystery which Silver City plays copycat of. It’s mainly a MacGuffin used as a springboard to more pressing issues, but the focus keeps flip-flopping. If it’s about issues, stick to them. No one cares about the lead’s personal life. Oh, the irony.

There are far more interesting characters on this stage and it’s a shame so many of them (and THEIR matters) forgotten about almost as quickly as they’re introduced. Ferrer’s talkshow host is just begging to lend support as are the underground website run by Tim Roth and Thora Birch. Call me bias, but the idea of internet reporters doing the real legwork only to have print journalists scoop them and lend “legitimacy” to their stories is vastly appealing. Even Cooper’s near retarded Dubya incarnation is shoved offstage (probably where his camp likes to have him) while Sayles embarks on his great crusade to stamp out run-away indecency and risking Cooper an almost certain Academy Award nomination for best supporting actor. Sayles’ chilling final shot notwithstanding, maybe more people would pay attention if the soapbox was a little sturdier. All in all, it was nice of Sayles to do his part for unemployment by casting two members from the film Midnight Madness. They at least KNEW what their goal was in THEIR scavenger hunt.

link directly to this review at http://www.efilmcritic.com/review.php?movie=10364&reviewer=198
originally posted: 09/12/04 12:03:58
[printer] printer-friendly format  
OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2004 Vancouver Film Festival. For more in the 2004 Vancouver Film Festival series, click here.
OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2004 Toronto Film Festival. For more in the 2004 Toronto Film Festival series, click here.
OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2004 Boston Film Festival. For more in the 2004 Boston Film Festival series, click here.

User Comments

11/23/08 PAUL SHORTT A SATIRE THATS AS SUBTLE AS A BULLDOZER 1 stars
11/26/05 Phil M. Aficionado Make a good movie and let the politics follow along; this was backward, hamhanded, sluggish 2 stars
1/20/05 burton miller bad dialog, stupid story, preachy - and the lead sucked absolutely all ass 1 stars
9/23/04 marianne thompson Sayles shows the personal as well as global disasters of hypocritical government 5 stars
9/23/04 el burro Very clever. Doesnt need to slap you in the face to make it's point. 4 stars
9/20/04 denny disappointing; a broad political satire would have been better; agree with critics 2 stars
9/20/04 Heather Good movie, but the storyline needs tightening up, uneven at times 4 stars
9/18/04 Jesse Browne Potential high - delivery bland 3 stars
9/17/04 Laurie James Waste of Time 2 stars
9/16/04 Cole Sims Miserably bad. Wandered around senselessly. 1 stars
IF YOU'VE SEEN THIS FILM, RATE IT!
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USA
  17-Sep-2004 (R)
  DVD: 11-Jan-2005

UK
  N/A

Australia
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Directed by
  John Sayles

Written by
  John Sayles

Cast
  Chris Cooper
  Richard Dreyfuss
  Michael Murphy
  Maria Bello
  Thora Birch
  Miguel Ferrer



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