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|Index||79 reviews in total|
Dickie Pilager is running for governor of Colorado. He's a good-looking
frat boy with a dubious past that includes at least one drunken-driving
charge. But he comes from a politically influential family and his
daddy's a powerful U.S. senator. Dickie, however, lacks panache. He
can't put together a simple sentence without stumbling. He's terrible
when he's unscripted, cannot function without a teleprompter, doesn't
have a clue what he's talking about, reduces policies to simple
catch-phrases, but the wealthy contribute generously to his campaign
and he's awfully "user-friendly" to big business. As one character in
"Silver City" points out, Dickie sounds gubernatorial on TV when the
sound's muted. Sound familiar?
In "Silver City," writer/editor/director John Sayles rolls a "Chinatown"-esque murder mystery, cynical political commentary and pointed observations about contemporary media into one film that succeeds more often than not. There are moments when I got the impression Sayles was trying too hard to drive home his point about Dickie's incompetence. As fun as it might have been to mock Dickie, he's too easy a target. The greasy players around Dickie - for instance, his handler Chuck Raven (played with smarmy charm by Richard Dreyfuss) - are far more interesting. Where "Silver City" crackles is in its distrust of our political system, the influence of slimy corporate types on candidates and ineptitude of the media.
Despite this being one of Sayles' weaker films, he remains one of the finest filmmakers this nation has produced in the last 25 years. His filmography contains some of the best independent films in recent memory - "Return of the Secaucus 7" (1980), "Lianna" (1983), "Matewan" (1987), "Eight Men Out" (1988), "Passion Fish" (1992), his masterpiece, "Lone Star" (1996) and "Men With Guns" (2000). Even much of his lesser-known works, "City of Hope" (1991), "The Secret of Roan Inish" (1994) and "Limbo" (1999), are remarkable pieces of storytelling. He's also socially conscious, acutely aware of the importance of shedding light on social problems, be they the plight of immigrants, childless couples or corruptibility of politicians.
What's ultimately a bit disappointing about "Silver City" is not so much its multi-layered story, but Sayles' inability to keep it tightly wound. As much as I admire Sayles, another editor with a fresh set of eyes might have helped tremendously.
He's deftly handled multi-story plots before, but this film doesn't seem keenly focused. Sayles weaves too many threads that don't patch together all that well. He relies a bit too much on coincidence - especially using two migrant workers in a pivotal plot point - to unravel his mystery and many interesting subplots and characters remain dangling, most glaringly a subplot involving reporter Nora (an under-used Mario Bello) and her fiancé Chandler (Billy Zane), a self-proclaimed "champion of the underdog" - he's a big-business and tobacco lobbyist.
The actors, many of them Sayles regulars, are terrific, as usual. Chris Cooper plays Dickie with great aplomb, but Sayles surprisingly wastes other talented actors in throwaway roles. Tim Roth, Thora Birch and Daryl Hannah have little to do in roles that scream for more importance. Hannah gets some of the best dialogue, but her Maddy Pilager needed more screen time.
Sayles' Jake Gittes is reporter-turned-investigator Danny O'Brien, who's more akin to Elliot Gould's Marlowe than Bogart's. Danny Huston plays O'Brien with tremendous charm, but Huston lacks the magnetism of his sister, father or grandfather. David Strathairn might have worked better. Another Sayles regular, Joe Morton, would have been a fascinating choice.
Sayles' cynicism about our wimpy media and political process is well founded. We're, after all, living in an age when the media ignored the real story behind the Florida debacle in the 2000 election (the disenfranchisement of hundreds, if not thousands, of black voters); reporters shirk their duties for fear of being branded as unpatriotic; major newspapers issue mea culpas for swallowing everything this administration served up, never questioning its motives in the lead up to the (utterly meaningless and pointless) war in Iraq; political candidates hold "town meetings" with pre-screened audiences who sign loyalty oaths and serve up pre-arranged softball questions; and at least one TV news network's mostly a mouthpiece for a political party.
Sayles' forte's always been excellent dialogue and when he moves away from Dickie, the writing often is smart, piercing and worthy of his best work. There are two especially razor-sharp moments - between Chuck and Danny at a bar, and a post-coitus Maddy.
"Silver City" is by no means mediocre. And, frankly, even mediocre Sayles would be better than most of what Hollywood makes. Though this film still is better than most at the multiplex right now, this is sub par Sayles. He set the standard so high with "Matewan" and "Lone Star" that we expect better from him.
"Silver City" concludes on a symbolic, cautionary note about the dangers of allowing the Dickie Pilagers of this world to win. The scary thing is we already have a real-life Dickie Pilager. And despite his good intentions, he's more dangerous than anyone fiction could ever create.
While not at the level of the best Sayles movies (Lone Star, The Secret
of Roan Inish, etc.), Silver City is still entertaining. The film
suffers a bit from trying to do too much, and not quite making it all
the way to any of its targets. But there's still a lot to enjoy.
My first thought while watching this movie was: hey, Chris Cooper isn't the star! Since his face is featured on the poster, and he starred in Lone Star, and is generally considered an A List actor these days, this was a bit of a surprise. The lead actor turned out to be Danny Huston, half-brother of Angelica, son of John, grandson of Walter, etc. Huston's character, Danny O'Brien, is hired by the Pilager campaign to intimidate a few enemies of Dickie Pilager (Cooper) after a dead body shows up in a lake during a campaign photo op. But O'Brien is by nature anti-establishment, and instincts from his previous life as an investigative journalist kick in, so he starts to investigate much more than he was hired to.
The supporting cast is terrific, though many of them (Tim Roth and Thora Birch come to mind) are wasted in tiny roles. Aside from Huston and Cooper, the only actors given much to work with are Maria Bello as his ex-girlfriend, who also happens to be a political reporter, Richard Dreyfuss as the Rove-like campaign manager, and Sal Lopez as a Mexican chef that O'Brien gets involved in investigating the background of the victim. Daryl Hannah has a nice small role as Maddy Pilager, the candidate's sister.
The general problem the movie has is that it seems a bit indecisive as to whether it's about immigration or about politics. It seems to be a bit more about immigration than politics, and other films such as Redford's "The Candidate" have covered the latter ground with considerably more energy and insight. Some reviewers have noted a parallel to the Huston masterpiece "Chinatown" - but that's a high standard to aim for, and Silver City really doesn't come close. The script is far too disjointed, and Danny Huston is just not close to Nicholson's level as an actor. Still, the movie is enjoyable, especially for its insights into the migrant worker community, which is usually ignored by most Americans.
John Sayles certainly has his act together. He comes through again with
a very well crafted socio-political commentary in the guise of an
entertaining intriguing murder mystery.
Danny Huston does a terrific job as a once-idealistic radical reporter who has been betrayed by 'the system'. When a murder of an illegal Mexican laborer threatens to sully the gubernatorial prospects of a dim-bulb scion of wealth and politics( the ever 'spot-on'Chris Cooper) Danny's radical loyalties are rekindled along with his intense focused investigative abilities. Hired by Cooper's campaign manager (the ever ascerbic Richard Dreyfuss)to I.D. the dead man and his killer( to protect Cooper), Huston discovers the incestuous world of land and utilities development and political seats. All the actors are perfect in their parts; cinematography and editing are memorable and tight. Sayles' films are always worth watching; this one will leave you with a very particular message that hopefully will stay with you.
Yes, Sayles is over-ambitious in this movie and lectures us about too many things. But Silver City is worth seeing just for the wonderful individual performances of its actors. Chris Cooper is dead-on in his imitation of Dubya. He conveys privileged arrogance, impatience, mangled English and downright cluelessness. Alongside Cooper's work stand the performances of Kris Kristoffersen (how does he manage to be so soft-spoken and so threatening at the same time?)and the wonderful Ralph Waite (the quintessential American actor.) Also great performances from Tim Roth as the radical blogger, James Gammon as the Sheriff and Sal Lopez as a Mexican cook. But do other people think Danny Huston was miscast as the main character, Danny O'Brien? He seemed so "aw-shucks" goofy and dumb much of the time. Plus, was he made up to look like Mike Connors in Mannix or what? That 50's hairstyle was WEIRD. Now Tim Roth, HE looked and acted like a burnt-out radical reporter. The problem goes right back to the writing - Sayles is just trying to say way too much in this movie, and we get long lectures (instead of good storytelling) about land-developers, dirty politicians, immigrant abuse, pollution, journalistic ethics, corporate America, dysfunctional dynastic families, recreational substance abuse, casual sex, broken hearts - the list goes on and on. Lone Star was much more focused, and the relationship in that movie between Sheriff Sam Deeds and his Hispanic lover, Pilar, became a metaphor for the strange & symbiotic & incestuous relationship between Mexico and the U.S. Lone Star had the same great individual performances Silver City has, but it trusted its audience to be more intelligent and "get it" without hammering us over the head with the message. If you have the chance to see Silver City, definitely see it - the acting is wonderful. But expect a flawed movie.
Pretty scary film, with its only slightly veiled alignment with Bush's
environmental and immigration policies(contradiction in terms to be
sure!), this uneven and fragmented film missed the mark in great
film-making but hit it somewhat in its frightening depiction of the
real power behind the powers that appear to be in charge in today's
Cris Cooper's character's dysfunction with the English language was so very similar to Bush's and really appeared pathetic in a man running for governor, but to his credit he didn't say "nucular" one time but did have that same unfortunate impromptu speaking difficulty that Bush has when speaking off the cuff. Really embarrassing and hard to watch, just like with Bush.
Kris Kristofferson's crusty, empire-building, power-mad, money-grubbing, Sagebrush-Rebellion character scared the hell out of me in the same way Dick Cheney does, as did R. Dreyfuss' Karl Rove-like character. Both were excellent as the roles fit them well. Wayyyyyy creepy both, but even more scary to know that real people exist that are just exactly that way and are running our country!!!
The Huston family entry in this film was the loser protagonist, but a weak choice for the leading role due to his too-laid-back style and little boy, disingenuous big smile, plus his family's obvious star-making push behind him. "Let's get the boy a job" shouldn't be the reason for casting movie leads. A more bulldogged, but younger James Woods or Richard Dreyfus-type lead would have been much more credible in the role, and probably would have saved the film. Darryl Hannah was very good in her small role as the slutty, trust-fund sister of the candidate, uselessly taking up space in life but apparently giving lots of men good times in the sack through the years.(On 2nd thought, maybe not so useless after all.)
Overall, this film made me sad and uncomfortable. Sad to know that it characterized so well the political attitudes in the American presidential office today, the very one that will make all of us suffer greatly until it is finally unseated. But, also sad that the film was not put together a bit better with the good actors and story it had. Then, it could have been as effective and as good as "Wag The Dog".
I was disappointed by this. Oh, it is great fun goofing on any
politician, the more smarmy and sanctimonious the better. But I can get
political goofs by the dump truck load from elsewhere. What I expected
was something as gently incisive as, say, "Doonesbury," but with the
cinematic skills we know Sayles has. Something as gentle and sharp as
"tanner on Tanner."
We have three threads here. The first is the depiction of the system, the handlers and supporters that "make" a president. We all know how it is; many politicians admit it and nearly all journalists report on it. There isn't a shred of newness in this thread, and surely not out of Dreyfuss.
There's a second component having to do with the story that wraps the thing. Now here is where I expected some art. What we end up with a single big corporation as the bad guy, no, beyond that a single corporate man. Then we see how his misdeeds unravel a bit. Sure, we have payoffs, bribery, rampant disregard for the environment and a cover-up.
But see. The thing to make fun of is how some reduce big complex issues to simple narratives. How they take a million threads of a complex tapestry with inscrutable hues and patterns and reduce it to a paper towel with flag patterns. So why do the same thing when satirizing them? Why? It isn't as if there aren't people in the film world incapable of doing this? Or was it just a rush job?
Most people let all that slip because Chris Cooper's version is too delicious. Here's the problem with this: its not disturbing enough. The thing with the target's speech is how he needs to have his mouth work, but his mind cannot produce the coherent thought fast enough, so it looks for stored phrases and tries to evaluate them for appropriateness on the fly. This gives both odd pauses and sometimes goofy leaps in concepts and metaphors.
Listen to Cooper and pay attention to the leaps. Both are fabricated for dramatic effect. The pauses are regular. They're not even, but they have multiples: pause, twice as long three times as long. And they have a rhythm that if you listen makes a sort of sense.
Now look at the linguistic leaps. They have the same patterns, regular semantic distances. That's because we as viewers have to be in on the joke. We know he will jump and precisely how far. We just don't know the direction. See, humor is in the unexpected and in order for it to work, you need to set expectations.
Now, dear reader, listen to the target. He is not creating something as art, he is just living. What you will find is a well-studied artifact of a man whose cognitive centers have been damaged by cocaine saturation. There is no regularity. Pauses are random. The semantic distances are random. That's the whole point. This is what you find in substance abusers. Always. It is not dumbness but drug damage.
Oddly the National Institutes of Health had a great research program on this because all sorts of conditions like Alzheimers can be diagnosed by measuring these speech effects. But once the link was make to cocaine users, the program was terminated. Now that would make a good movie, Huh?
Ted's Evaluation -- 2 of 3: Has some interesting elements.
Every voter and her or his child must see this film. Why don't people flock to films like Sayles'? Not unlike Sunshine State, Matewan, or even Passionfish, it's a smart, well written, brilliantly acted and nothing like the big budget fare anyone can see at any time in his or her local multiplex. John Sayles and the handful of filmmakers like him who do not reduce themselves to the lowest common denominator of big budget decision makers and executives are the only hope for film and popular culture in this country. Even if you don't agree with the political message of the filmmakers or the people who funded him (not, by the way, a major studio; and like all of Sayles' films, this one is written, edited and directed by Sayles himself) you will come away from seeing this picture a more informed person, as well as having seen a good movie. Information is power, and by entertaining the spectator while he informs her or him, Sayles is merely doing what major network news has done surreptitiously for the last few decades. See this movie! You'll be glad!
John Sayles repeats himself in "Silver City," borrowing very
heavy-handedly from his much more effective takes on local politics and
the environment that spawns it, from his "City of Hope" (urban NJ),
"Lone Star" (Texas)--which also featured Kris Kristofferson in a not
dissimilar role-- and "Sunshine State" (Florida), though now he's
taking on Colorado.
Other actors also seem to be present for their resonance from other features, Michael Murphy from "Tanner 88," Daryl Hannah almost as crazy as she was in "Kill Bill, Volume 2," and Richard Dreyfuss channeling Duddy Kravitz as a campaign manager.
While Chris Cooper is very effective in capturing a George W. Bush-type politician from a family dynasty, Danny Huston switches confusingly from cynical ex-journalist/investigator to naif as he uncovers a scandal with ever-widening yet encircling entanglements of class, ethnicity, media, real estate, wildlife, etc. etc.
While the satire is scarily amusing, the final scene of this overlong film is literally overkill.
Sayles as usual carefully picks the songs on the soundtrack, here there's frequent Cowboy Junkies tracks.
What film depicts corrupt politicians and businessmen controlling a
vast local resource but enduring a sometimes-hapless yet attractive
detective investigating a murder involving those community leaders? If
you said 'Chinatown,' you'd be correct; if you said 'Silver City,'
you'd also be correct. There are other similarities such as both have
stars with last names Huston, and justice is long coming. Beyond that,
there is no qualitative similarity: Roman Polanski's 'Chinatown' is a
classic; John Sayles' 'Silver City' is a contemporary curiosity.
'Contemporary' because the liberal Sayles writes and directs about a political campaign for the governorship of Colorado that barely disguises its protagonists as George Bush (Chris Cooper) and Karl Rove (Richard Dreyfuss) knockoffs. Cooper's candidate has halting, incomplete, and scripted sentences, undoubtedly the speech patterns of Bush. The manipulative and effective machinations of Dreyfuss's operative are patently those of the infamous Bush campaign mastermind.
The story and dialogue are undistinguished, as if they count on the audience to be mesmerized by the broad parallels to the 2004 campaign. (See 'Primary Colors' for wit and grit about the Clinton campaign, starring John Travolta.) Although Danny Huston (son of John and brother of Angelica) is a lesser Jack Nicholson, his easy-going persona works well for a detective who constantly gets himself into trouble rather than his clients out of it.
The comparison to Michael Moore's documentary 'Fahrenheit 911' is inevitable. The heavy-handedness of 'Silver' makes Moore's work look almost subtle, yet Sayles must be praised for his dissenting voice in parlous times for free speech. Sayles is more successful in weaving the intricate patterns of corruption in 'City of Hope'; here he seems more like Moore in an overt attempt to topple a sitting president. Sayles's 'Lone Star' is more believable, and that's about incest.
John, Viscount Morley in 'Rousseau' wrote, 'Those who would treat politics and morality apart will never understand the one or the other.'
These filmmakers understand both in varying degrees of success.
John Sayles, what have you done?
"Silver City" had moments in which I could see the glimmering hope of a good story, well-drawn characters, thought provoking dialog. And then those moments would quickly be covered over by layers of poor writing, clumsy direction, and abysmal acting. I truly love almost all of John Sayles' work, but "Silver City" is ghastly.
I got the feeling that Sayles may have been working on the beginnings of a good story involving the illegal labor and industrial corruption plot lines, but then he got rushed and stuck the secondary plot line satirizing the Bush administration onto it. The two stories don't really connect with each other, and the weaker elements of the political theme dominate the first 3/4 of the movie, causing me to lose patience with the whole affair.
The other major flaw is Danny Huston's acting. His dialog in every scene is delivered with a gawping grin, regardless of its appropriateness to the mood. I hated this guy by the end of the film, having been reminded of every bad actor in every high school play I've ever seen. Not having seen Huston in anything else, I don't know whether to blame him or to blame Sayles' direction of him more. Regardless, he's the unfortunate focal point of a very unfortunate movie.
Right down to the last sledgehammer-subtle final scene I was disappointed by "Silver City." Sayles at his best, or heck, even Sayles at mediocre, can be so very much better than this film. See ANY of his other works instead. This isn't even worth a rental.
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