John Sayles’ latest film “Silver City” promises to be both a detective thriller and a Bush-era satire of public office, and achieves moderate success in both areas.
Colorado gubernatorial candidate Richard “Dicky” Pilager (Chris Cooper) is shocked when, while making a routine campaign ad, he accidentally hooks a dead body with his fishing rod. Even more shocked is Chuck Raven (Richard Dreyfuss), Dicky’s campaign manager, who usually ends up doing most of the thinking for him. Raven promptly puts a lid on the issue and hires a private investigator, former reporter Danny O’Brien (Danny Huston), to find out more about the body. After some serious investigative work, O’Brien gets familiar with the hardball politics played by Raven and begins to suspect that Dicky and his senator/businessman father may be responsible for the death.
Dicky’s bumbling antics are probably the highlight of the movie. His campaign promises are hauntingly reminiscent of those made by a certain presidential candidate this year, most strikingly his remarks to Colorado criminals which are virtually identical to the “war on terror” rhetoric. It is amusing and sometimes even funny when the politically minded Raven bales Dicky out of tough situations, such as talking to the press without a teleprompter.
Less solid is the central story of investigator O’Brien as he gradually uncovers the corporate corruption of the Pilager family (appropriately enough, most of the Pilager family fortune comes from distributing cow manure). Although it is interesting and thought-provoking at times, the story lacks intensity and ultimately just fizzles out.
One of the film’s redeeming qualities is Dreyfuss’ unusual performance, which provides an interesting counterpoint to his more optimistic and idealistic roles in his earlier films, such as “American Graffiti,” “Jaws” and “Mr. Holland’s Opus.” Dreyfuss is anything but idealistic in this role, and it’s good to know that he is equally capable of playing the bad guy. His parting line is probably the nastiest thing he has ever said on film (see it for yourself to find out).
This movie may be able to find its niche this year as the only non-documentary political film. With the Michael Moore-induced onslaught of “docu-dramas” this summer, it’s a relief to see a movie that doesn’t try to entertain and educate at the same time. Now that school has started, we can finally leave education in the classroom and go to the movies just to have fun.
Being a political movie, “Silver City” will probably be of greater interest to those closely following the election this year. My advice is to either watch the movie now or not at all, since the connection between Pilager and Bush is so clear that watching it after the election might make it seem out of date. This movie may even appeal to those who don’t follow politics, although such people would probably miss out on how closely Dicky Pilager’s mannerisms line up with those of Bush. All in all, “Silver City” is a decent film, but its abundance of flaws and oddities hold it back just as much as its humor and relevance push it forward.