Movies — Silver City (R)

Silver City (R)

- Amy Diaz

A reporter turned investigator uncovers corruption in a political family whose dim-bulb scion is now headed for the Colorado governor’s office in Silver City, a film from Lone Star John Sayles.

You know, just because the political figurehead fronting a bunch of corrupt, anti-environmental corporate interests in his bid for governor of a western state is the son of a far smarter politician and is handled by a viciously competitive (also smarter) campaign manager doesn’t mean he’s necessarily a stand-in for anyone in particular. And even though this gubernatorial candidate also has a speaking style pocked with misused words, incomplete sentences and half-formed thoughts doesn’t necessarily mean he’s supposed to resemble anyone who might currently be president. And just because John Sayles is an ardent liberal who has a stated desire to get George W. Bush out of office doesn’t necessarily mean the movie is an anti-Republican, anti-Bush diatribe.

Except, that, er, it is and Dickie Pilager does resemble Bush and he is meant to make us think about the many nefarious connections of Bush, his family and their friends. Welcome to election season 2004 at the movies!

Young Pilager (Chris Cooper, wincing and squinting enough to give champion Bush impersonator Will Ferrell a run for his money) is the shoo-in candidate for governor in Colorado, helped along by the donations from assorted big business interests (big agriculture, big mining, big media—most of which is owned by Wes Benteen [Kris Krisofferson]) and by the name recognition of his long-time senator father. While shooting a “Dickie Pilager cares about the environment” commercial, Dickie casts his fishing line and accidentally catches a dead body. The campaign manger (Richard Dreyfuss) hustles his charge off to a new commercial shoot and then sets about investigating and, simulantiously, covering up the floater. He hires an investigating firm and an investigator, Danny O’Brien (Danny Huston) to find out just enough about the dead body to threaten whoever may have tried to sully the future governor’s reputation with its presence.

Danny sets about trying to find out the identity of the man—no easy task since he appears to be one of the many illegal immigrants who provide the cheap labor that keeps the west prosperous. He also sets off to politely threaten the three people the campaign manager believes have a potentially campaign-damaging grudge—a super-right-wing talk-show host, a one-time labor official who was destroyed by Benteen and Pilager years ago and Maddy Pilager (Daryl Hannah), Dickie’s sister, who feels that the family has ruined her life and has done her best to embarrass them as revenge.

Throughout his investigation, Danny finds himself forever running into an old girlfriend, Nora (Maria Bello). Once upon a time, Nora and Danny were both scrappy reporters for a scrappy paper. But Danny pulled a Dan Rather and ended up disgracing both himself and his paper. Nora moved over to a more reputable yet less investigatory-minded big daily paper. Now engaged to one of the state’s slimier lobbyists (Billy Zane), she seems to have given in to the corporate-newspaper mindset.

Nora warns Danny off digging too deeply but, though his job does not really require it, Danny can’t help but continue to uncover the scandalous side of the Pilagers.

The strong, slightly obsessive desire of some of the most liberal members of the left wing to oust Bush has really created some lousy entertainment. I’m thinking here of Al Franken rants, the less-than-stellar Fahrenheit 9/11, that dreadfully earnest CD compilation and now Silver City. It seems that, in their effort to deliver a message (“vote Bush out” seems about the crux of it), those in the entertainment industry have forgotten to be entertaining.

John Sayles has produced carefully constructed, subtly drawn stories of class, race and regional strife before (Lone Star is magnificent). Here, he tries to hit his points with anvils, chucking large dense blocks of The Message from the screen. More often than they hit their mark they hit the audience, square in the head.

Ow, being about my reaction. Stop with the throwing.

Huston, in his role as the extractor and provider of exposition, is so clumsy he seems almost as lost in the story as Dickie Pilager is in his syntax. The investigator is supposed to be, I guess, a man seeking some kind of redemption for the failures of his past. This translates, more often than not, to desperate schlubby loser.

In the Pilagers and their court, Sayles has drawn a group of villains so unsubtle that they all but twirl handlebar mustaches and give hearty mwah-ha-ha-has. Nora’s oily fiancé tells her that the only way not to get run over by the powerful is to join them, a sentiment Nora seems to agree with, since, after all, she did decide to marry him.  Nonetheless, she pines for the more upright Danny, missing apparently his tendency to write notes from his story all over his living room walls and his rumpled earnestness.

Can a relationship built on earnestness, however, really have been that much fun? Certainly a movie built, as this one is, on so much liberal rage and woeful why-won’t-people-listen desperation isn’t all that fun. Even the small moments of humor and some of the subtler humor is drowned out by all the proselytizing.

- Amy Diaz

2004 HippoPress LLC | Manchester, NH