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Overall Rating

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 Elaine Perrone

"Rocky (Mountain) outing for John Sayles."
2 stars

That Silver City isn't really about what one expects it to be about isn't in itself a bad thing. What is shocking, for fans of John Sayles, is that the storytelling is bland, the political satire insipid, and the denouement, when it arrives, unmoving.

Unfortunate, too, is the weak use of an immensely talented ensemble of acclaimed actors, most of whom appear in what amount to little more than distracting walk-ons. Conversely, the movie's focal character, Danny O'Brien (Danny Huston), a disgraced investigative journalist-turned-private detective, is given far too much screen time devoted to an uninteresting plot about his disastrous love life and not-quite-failed relationship with a political reporter (Maria Bello).

The most startlingly under-written character is that of Dickie Pilager (Chris Cooper), a "user-friendly, grammatically-challenged dimwit" who is running for governor of the State of Colorado, despite never having held public office.

The film opens promisingly, with Dickie shooting an environmental spot for television. His "bucolic fishing thing" hits a snag, literally, when he reels in what turns out to be a cyanide-loaded body. Afraid the corpse might have been planted to derail Dickie's campaign, his ferocious manager Chuck Raven (Richard Dreyfuss) hires Danny to threaten three of the Pilager family enemies. (Oddly, it never seems to occur to Raven that no one would be remotely intimidated by O'Brien, a schlimazel who is perpetually left holding the bag, even when he is in the right.)

The three people Danny is sicced on are Cliff Castleton (Miguel Ferrer), a rabid right-wing radio talk show host who believes the death penalty is too lenient; Casey Lyle (Ralph Waite), a former EPA crusader whose life was ruined by Dickie's father, Senator Judson Pilager (Michael Murphy); and Maddy Pilager (Daryl Hannah), Dickie's estranged sister and the family black sheep. What Raven doesn't bank on is Danny's tenaciousness in untangling the web that connects the Pilagers, the undocumented migrant workers, and the developers of Silver City to the movers and shakers within government, the media, and big business -- and to the puppetmaster at the center of them all, multi-national corporate giant, Wes Benteen (Kris Kristofferson), whose abiding philosophy is "privatization."

Sayles has beautifully written the character of Maddy Pilager, and Daryl Hannah plays the hell out of the role of the perpetually stoned archer, single mom, and former Olympic hopeful whose goal in life is the ruination of her family. Sadly, the character is peripheral, serving only as part of Dickie's "back story," with her own story going nowhere.

Sal Lopez and Alma Delfina are terrific in more substantive roles as, respectively, Tony Guerra, a resort chef and amateur detective who signs on to help Danny in his investigation; and Lupe Montoya, an immigrant who has become a proud citizen, and who acts as Danny's link to the frightened illegal workers.

The real star of Silver City is Denver, and the viewer can almost feel intoxicated by the brilliant natural beauty of the Mile High City as seen through the lens of cinematographer Haskell Wexler.

John Sayles explained the brief period of pre-production that he and Maggie Renzi (his producer and life-partner) allotted for themselves, saying, "We wanted the film to be in theaters before the election. You hope that it makes some noise and gets into the conversation." With all its immense potential, and the intelligence and talent both in front of the camera and behind, one can only wonder how much better Silver City would have been, had they spent a bit more time on it.

At one point, a character quips, "One president gets caught getting a blowjob in the Oval Office and another steals the election. Americans have lost their ability to be scandalized." With John Sayles at the helm, Silver City was a movie had I looked forward to with great anticipation. I'm sorry to report that I haven't lost my ability to be terribly disappointed.

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originally posted: 09/15/04 10:13:33
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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

11/26/05 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
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  17-Sep-2004 (R)
  DVD: 11-Jan-2005



Directed by
  John Sayles

Written by
  John Sayles

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

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