At his best, John Sayles is such a gifted multitasker that that if one of his skills fails him it, it seems like a major disappointment.Like his most accomplished movie Lone Star, Silver City juggles genres and throws in social commentary and local color.
With the former movie, however, Sayles was able to wrap the political observations in a genuinely suspenseful storyline and scrupulously steered clear of didacticism.
While the writer-director-editor's left-wing credentials are well established, a friend of mine who's a deeply conservative Catholic philosophy professor loves Sayles' films because he creates real, three-dimensional characters.
Sayles' usual even-handedness is missing in the new film. Unlike Oliver Stone or Michael Moore, simple potshots seem unwelcome in Sayles' content.
Silver City follows the Colorado gubernatorial campaign of Dickie Pilager (Chris Cooper), a fellow who has trouble completing a coherent sentence without the aid of a teleprompter.
Nonetheless, he's a shoo-in for the seat because his father (Michael Murphy, Tanner on Tanner) is a prominent senator, and he's getting copious support from a shady tycoon (Kris Kristofferson).
The campaign hits a snag when a dead body turns up during a commercial shoot. Dickie's Machiavellian campaign manager Chuck Raven (Richard Dreyfuss) hires a Private Eye named Danny O'Brien (Danny Huston) to find out how the corpse got there.
The mystery is surprisingly uninvolving. Considering the life and death stakes involved, the danger seems rather mild. As Silver City progresses, it feels more tempting to trim one's nails than to bite them.
The politics involved are disappointingly simplistic. It's a lot of fun watching Sayles regular Cooper aping George W. Bush's malapropisms, but even if you don't think much of the current President, it's hard to see why Coloradoans in the film are so enamored with "Dim Dickie." Sayles never tells who's running against Dickie or why the opposition is behind in the polls. Knowing that would have made it easier to buy into the story.
Every now and then Sayles offers a brief moment that indicates what happens when his brain is running on all four cylinders. Several of the lines are snappy (check out the definition for Dickie's pet phrase "Cultural Equilibrium"), and Sayles also gives Daryl Hannah and Miguel Ferrer some juicy supporting roles.
But whenever O'Brien returns to investigation, the malaise returns. It doesn't help that Huston's laid-back demeanor seems ill suited for a leading man in a thriller.Sayles is at his best when he has something more substantial to say than "Bush sucks." Silver City would have been more rewarding if Sayles had shrunk his usually panoramic canvas and concentrated on a story that emphasizes people over agendas.
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.