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Not Sayles' best, but still worth seeing
anhedonia29 September 2004
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.
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Entertaining political/mystery/comedy
Rick-341 February 2005
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.
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john sayles delivers another great socio-political commentary wrapped in a mystery
film_ophile25 September 2004
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.
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Worth Seeing for Individual Performances
julie-11719 October 2004
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.
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America is a dead fish? Harsh finish to an unnerving film.
bobbobwhite7 February 2005
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 politics.

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".
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Even Hesitations
tedg7 December 2005
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.
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The seed of a good story, surrounded by a thick layer of garbage
lore-51 October 2004
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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A contemporary curiosity
jdesando3 October 2004
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.
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Sayles Repeats His Politics, Just Now in Colorado
noralee29 September 2004
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.
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isabella_237230 January 2005
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!
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Excellent John Sayles film, Silver City is a must see for the thinking American.
CelesteDavison16 January 2005
Silver City is John Sayles at his best. Starting right off with a politician who cannot think while he talks, portrayed excellently by Chris Cooper, the film rolls right into a murder mystery that keeps the momentum going to the last frame. Richard Dreyfuss plays a Carl Rove type master political manipulator after his own interests and those of his filthy-rich backers. When Danny O'Brien (Danny Huston) is hired to investigate/intimidate some of the local dissenters, his path takes us to the rest of the characters that make up this amazing and astute satire on current politics and the corruption therein. If you ever thought that money was not running everything in politics, this will help enlighten you. It is a delight to see Ralpf Waite in a fine performance as a mining engineer and Michael Murphy as the father of the candidate in the aptly named Pilager dynasty. Danny Huston carries the film on it's way as the man who strings it all together, an interesting portrayal of a man torn by his own self- doubt who, for a while, forgot to fight the good fight. He reawakens as the investigation reveals the underpinnings of down and dirty political interests that have nothing to do with public or environmental good. There is a great deal of subtle humor here, satire in very good form.

This film is worth seeing on so many levels. Any one with two brain cells to rub together would enjoy this film, but for those of political astuteness, this is a must. It will make you feel good, to see and hear what you have been feeling for the last five years put into such an aware showcase. Everyone is the film puts in a fine performance. The scenes are in beautiful Colorado. The cast and crew, writer and director John Sayles and producer Maggie Renzi, have created a piece of art with social conscience, as usual, yet more progressive than ever.

"If you can't win the game just change the rules" the movie explains. Follow the rule breakers while you watch Silver City.
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Very funny and timely!
seelifedive28 April 2005
You'll never look at "W" again without thinking of Dickie Pilager! Nice piece of political satire and all too true. Well shot...well acted... and well directed. The characters are slightly "comic bookish" but consider their real life counterparts.

Be sure to look at the "Additional features" on the DVD. It contains some very pointed social commentary from some very concerned and talented individuals. This movie is probably more important now that we have had the election outcome of 2004.

The Haskell Wexler cinematography is really excellent. Be sure to notice the backgrounds when he is interviewed!
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Flawed But Well Worth Seeing
jmatrixrenegade17 September 2004
I'm surprised at the opening negative reviews this film is receiving on the board. The suggestion this film is the worse Sayles had to offer gives his last couple films a better rating than they deserve -- the baby adoption one seemed unfinished and the one with the Florida (?) resort building was a bit bland to say the least. It is quite true that Silver City does not meet the standards of "Lone Star" and other great Sayles films -- he has gone into a bit of a slump. Still, this film suggests we might hope he is climbing out of it.

The film still seems more about sending messages than entertaining. The obvious Dubya clone is too broad, and we don't we see how he ticks. Richard Dreyfuss is great as the campaign director, though he too doesn't really get another screen time. Still, on the whole, there is a lot to offer, especially the sense of place (though some of the mountains look like fake background). Sayles also offers some great supporting characters, as always. Daryl Hannah must be underlined here; she is quite a find -- who knew?

Liking the film, I guess, depends on liking the former news reporter given the role to investigate an embarrassing find. I enjoyed Danny Huston's character and found his investigations handled well. The caterer/chef he hires to help him out also gives a nice performance as does Huston's ex-g/f, the reporter. As do others they both meet along the way. For instance, the scenes involving an investigative website and rightwing talk show host were enjoyable.

The film ends on a realistic note that is refreshing. It tells a story, stories actually, while preaching its message. And, some of the "bad guys" (including Kris Kristofferson) are not portrayed as evil slimebags or anything, adding a sense of fairness to the whole thing.

A flawed movie that remains an enjoyable movie for mature moviegoers.
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Solid Sayles
zetes12 January 2005
From the advertisements and many of the reviews, I had thought that this was a direct attack on President Bush with Chris Cooper impersonating him in a cheap joke for two hours. Not so. Dickie Pilager is most certainly a thinly veiled George W. Bush, but he's only a small part of the Saylesian community presented and he disappears for half hours at a time. I'd like to point out, though, that the parody is deft and, indeed, really hilarious. It's a better impression of him than I've seen anyone on Saturday Night Live give. This film goes with the image of W that he is more of a puppet than anything else, working hard for corporate America while appealing to the prejudices and "values" of the "everyday" Americans. The movie is actually a detective story, with Danny Huston a sort of unconventional P.I. (he was a newspaper reporter, but was fired). He is asked by Pilager's campaign manager (Richard Dreyfuss) to investigate a body that popped up out of the water when they were filming a commercial. Dreyfuss wants to know that this was just a coincidence and that no one was trying to embarrass his candidate. Of course, Huston turns up more than Dreyfuss wanted him to. The revelations are surprising and I think the story as a whole is subtle and intelligent. This fictional story of politics is more damning than Michael Moore's direct attacks on the President, although that's not saying too much, as I found Fahrenheit 9/11 to be a weak attack anyhow. I think the montage at the film's end is extremely powerful, even though I do believe Sayles went far overboard on the final scene, where dead fish litter the glassy lake surface while "America the Beautiful" blares over the soundtrack. It would be easy to convince people who haven't seen the film that it is very unsubtle with that final sequence. This isn't quite one of Sayles' best, but it is a worthy edition to his canon. His fans will certainly be pleased.
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Wow ...where to begin
pottymouthed14 September 2004
Without getting into any of the political debate that I'm sure this film will dredge up, let me just say that I enjoyed it on its merits and I would recommend it to anyone. It was nice to see a movie that isn't tired old recyled Hollywood fare. Fast paced and funny with a whole heck of a lot of familiar faces. I've always been a big Richard Dreyfuss fan and as usual he does not disappoint. I guess what struck me as odd is that I never saw any trailers for this movie or any media coverage for that matter. While the Dicky might remind people of some of the lesser qualities of GWB I still don't see why this movie is so far been quietly 'shoved under the rug'. Then again it is an election season.
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winner551 January 2008
Limp satire misses almost every mark. The target appears to be Bush, but none of Bush's real weaknesses are underscored with any satiric edge - speeches by Bush himself are funnier than those delivered by Candidate Pillager. In fact the script can't decide whether it's a real satire or a dramatic comment on political problems faced by illegal aliens. At any rate, the pacing of the comic moments is pretty bad - there's no oomph here, no energy. The acting also lacks energy - it is clear the actors aren't sure what Sayles wants from them - a matter made worse by the fact that every character is embarrassingly miscast.

This film is a shocking disappointment for admirers of Sayles' previous exceptionally fine work. What the heck went wrong here? And now I see Sayles is slated to do a "Juraissic Park" sequel? Obviously something's gone bad for this man's career - I hope he can pull it back together. But not with a film this incomplete.
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OK but a bit too baggy and unfocused where it should have been sharp and tight
bob the moo11 December 2005
On a campaign shoot for his election as state governor, Dickie Pilager hooks a dead body in a river. Campaign manager Chuck Raven moves quickly to help get Pilager out of the way and ensure the local police deal with the issue very sensitively, but also feels that somebody has deliberately tried to damage his campaign and hires former investigative journalist Danny O'Brien to do some digging and send a warning to those that he suspects would have done such a thing. O'Brien starts to do his job but along the way he gets intrigued by Pilager's background and, by doing some digging starts to undercover some sinister connections between the body and the future Governor.

With a main character that very clearly mocks the current US President this film was still timely despite the fact that it came out in the UK over a year after it did in the US. However trading on one character is not enough to carry this film, particularly when we spend most of our time with Huston's Danny O'Brien. With the focus on O'Brien we needed a really tight and smart story to uncover but instead the script is baggy and rambling, like it lacks teeth or direction. Eventually it does make some sort of point but it takes its time and it certainly is not the tight, smart drama/satire that it was being sold as in the UK. This is a shame because it is a missed opportunity and it produces a film that is surprisingly dull and unengaging. I know from Lone Star that Sayles can work with a main story while making the subplots all just as strong and interesting but here he can't manage it – even letting the main thrust get away from him. It is a shame but, although still interesting, I found myself wondering what could have been more often than I was thinking about what it actually was doing.

The performances help to a point but after a while they can only do so much. Huston is the main character here and he leads the film well – just a shame nobody told him that his character was not strong or deep enough to make the audience interested in him as much as we were in the main political story. Cooper is where the best material lies and it was a shame that he is limited to so few scenes and essentially just does a few short impressions of Bush-isms. Dreyfuss adds class despite not having a great deal to do – he should have been more important within the political conspiracy but the material just isn't there to use him. The support cast is solid but distractingly full – turns from Hannah, Kristofferson, Roth, Bello, Birch and others all fill the film out but they do contribute to the feeling that it isn't focused or anywhere near tight enough.

Overall this was an OK film but the lack of tight focus makes it feel baggy and a bit frustrating as it doesn't go where you want it to. The cast are all good but they can't stop the film feeling baggy and aimless at times. With such a good impression of Bush at its core, it is a shame that the film couldn't produce a sharper satire with a tighter plot, which is ultimately the main problem with it. Fans of John Sayles will probably still enjoy it thanks to his approach but for me I struggled with the feeling that it seemed to do nothing and do it slowly.
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what cinema should be
loig75 August 2005
Warning: Spoilers
To start with, the least observant/most biased people will probably go on about the political aspect of the film and, yes, it is a courageous, militant, political statement, pointing out a few unpleasant truths about GWB's America, busy raping the environment for profit (cf. oil in protected parks etc.).

But it's much more! And it features most of Sayles' trademark features that qualify him as an important social commentator of his troubled era and a true multi-faceted artist. "Silver City" has so much to offer.

-Funny: Cooper's impersonation of the global village idiot is spot-on and hilarious (his mangled syntax, his resort to demagogic catch-phrases when faced with a question "er... frontier justice", his false bonhommie); Billy Zane's and Dreyfus's political PR reinterpretations of vocabulary ("I couldn't call it a builders' bill of civil rights"), and so on.

-Sentimental (in its best possible sense): note in particular the way in which he turns the Daryl Hannah sex-related (teen pregnancy) episode into a moving vignette: how she decided to care for her son. Plus, of course, the detective's leitmotiv pas-de-deux with his ex-girlfriend.

-Some Spanish spoken! Great!

-Documentary quality (cf. "Limbo" for another ex.)

-Great construction: how the detective investigates three possible threats and thus uncovers three angles to the Pilager (note the name) family story. Ironically, in all three cases, his former profession was involved and played a part in the damning episodes (more on this subject right below).

-Of course and almost inevitably, it turns out that the threat/problem in question is not the fruit of any of the three people investigated; it doesn't' come from any of these angles but -SPOILERS ahead- ....ironically enough, is of the Pilager family businesses' own makings. The usual return of the repressed/skeletons in the closet (cf. the beautiful "Lone Star" or "Men With Guns") that is -literally- natural and works: within the logic of the plot, structurally (the dynamics of the film), and in the broader picture (the political/environmental context).

In fact, it also works (possibly concerns) for the hero: as a left-wing journalist, he would have been a prime candidate to get involved in the three stories relating to Dickie's past: covering them (i.e. his sister, the rabid right-winger and the miner). See how he flinches when Hannah tells him her life-story. ...In other words, he too, in a way, may have played a part in the events leading up to the various present situations. ...Everything is linked, and bad karma follows you around.

-It's a cast ensemble opus. Various actors take their turn to impose themselves; for ex. the Mexican cook slash detective takes over, and is then replaced by someone else of importance later on. No big star feels the need to hug the camera and steal a scene (like T. Roth,K. Kristofferson, or D. Hannah).

And so on and so forth. Great stuff by an accomplished film-maker who deserves every support/kudo.
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Underrated, under-appreciated
mazzworld20023 June 2005
Critics dismissed "Silver City" as murky and overly complicated; I can only assume they meant "as compared with movies like X2:Xmen Unite." Anyone who enjoyed "Chinatown" or "The Big Sleep" should be able to easily follow the plot of this movie, which is a relatively straightforward hard-boiled detective story involving corruption in high places. The only difference is that the PI in this case is a disillusioned former investigative reporter. As usual in a Sayles film, the acting ensemble is strong; perhaps the most surprising performance is by Daryl Hannah as the black sheep of a wealthy Colorado family. To compare "Silver City" to John Sayles' previous work, I would say it does not have the warm humor of "Brother" or the tautness of his best films, "Matewan" and "8 Men Out," but compares favorably with efforts like "Passionfish."
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Silver City
cultfilmfan13 March 2005
Silver City, is set in Denver, Colorado and centers around the election of a man named Dickie Pilager, who is running for Governor. One day while filming a commercial for his campaign Dickie, discovers a dead body in the water by an accident. Dickie's campaign manager Chuck Raven, hires an investigator named Danny O'Brien, to investigate a couple people somehow related to Dickie, to figure out if this was done on purpose to sabotage his campaign or not. Danny, starts to investigate and along the way meets up with an old love named Nora Allardyce, and the more and more he uncovers Danny realizes that the people who hired him may have had something to do with this after all. Silver City, has good direction, a good script, good performances from everybody involved (especially Danny Huston, who plays Danny O'Brien), good original music, good cinematography and good film editing. Silver City, is compelling, interesting, has good character study and development, is a good thriller and satire at the same time, is a well made, smart and crafty movie which uses a lot of different layers to tell it's story and does so very well. Overall the film comes off very good. Many people did not like this film and I think it is not because it is not a good movie but because of the satire and who the film is making fun of. Even on the DVD's special feature of the making of the film they address who they are making fun of and that this film was almost done on purpose to do that. Whenever you get a film that does that it will create a little buzz and controversy but for the rest of the viewers out there they should enjoy this smart and compelling thriller which is a great character study as well. Another good film by writer/director John Sayles.
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garonoff20 February 2005
Sayles and Cooper, and an excellent cast beautifully depict the modern American economic scene. If you have read any of the works by Eric Schlosser you want be disappointed by this treatment. Much of the critical complaint has been on the obvious links to the current commander and chief, George W. Bush. But the film highlights the current concerns of patriotic Americans regarding the direction our nations industrialists, and "leadership" have been taken us. This is a recurring theme in our history reminiscent of the labor wars of the late nineteenth century (see Sayles, Matewan also with Chris Cooper), and number of Hollywood films of the early thirties through the forties dealing with corruption including such classics as Meet John Doe, and "docudramas" like The Life of Emile Zola. An entertaining film without the typical Hollywood ending.
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Dan Franzen (dfranzen70)21 January 2005
While fishing during a political commercial during his campaign for governor, candidate Dickie Pilager hooks a dead body. Pilager's manager, Chuck Raven hires Danny O'Brien to investigate, thinking an old enemy of Pilager is trying to sabotage the campaign. O'Brien soon finds out that the gig isn't as easy as it looks, and soon he has more questions than suspects.

Director John Sayles' jab at George Walker Bush and his political campaign comes off as lightweight fluff, particularly because Sayles' scripts are usually so poignant and barbed. This one seems so defanged, it feels as if it originally aired as a made-for-television movie. At first, the viewer thinks he's in for a treat of thinly veiled references to political glad-handing, the spoils system, and other double-dealings. But sadly, it's just not meant to be. Sayles' story is nothing more than a who-killed-so-and-so movie with politics as a (somewhat distant) background.

The movie's biggest flaw, though, is in the casting of the lead role, O'Brien. Sayles chose Danny Huston, son of John, grandson of Walter, and half-brother of Anjelica. Huston has all of 18 credits on the Internet Movie Database, most of them minor roles. His lack of experience is sorely evident here; his character is at times annoying, charming, eager, and jaded. It's as if Huston couldn't quite decide how his character was supposed to react from scene to scene. As a result - and especially since he's working for the proverbial bad guys from the beginning - the audience isn't really sure whether they should be rooting for him or not. A sure bad omen for a film is a lead character about him the audience is at best ambivalent.

Another debit is the sheer quantity of characters; there are so many recognizable actors who have small roles that you tend to forget who they were the next time they appeared on screen. In addition to Dreyfuss (who has a few scenes, and chews them up), Michael Murphy, Mary Kay Place, Daryl Hannah, James Gammon, Tim Roth, Miguel Ferrer, and Kris Kristofferson pop on and offscreen like hiccups. In a way, Silver City is more reminiscent of a Robert Altman movie than a John Sayles movie, except for the shorter running time.

I was never drawn into the mystery of the dead body, or the political machinations, or even the human aspect (Pilager is portrayed as dumb as a post), so for me the movie failed to deliver. Silver City was a real disappointment to me; in this day of skewering politicians, and considering Sayles' usual crisp writing, it falls fall short of the mark. Impeach it
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Sayles is maturing
ACusterDecision18 September 2004
I am a long time fan of Sayles' work (20+ years) and I look at his films as running commentary , never finished, with endings that are open-ended and subject to extended discussion. Silver City has a stable of characters that are mined from many of his earlier works (grizzled idealists,local government folks trying to do their job, the rich and powerful trying to "do" theirs, et al) that alleged quirks in "plot" do not hinder this tightly edited and quick-paced film.

Sayles explores the theme of loss (of love, of jobs, of time, of family, of life) by unearthing what I consider a wonderful performance by Danny Huston as the oft-mention "loser" reporter turned private dick who surprises himself rising like a wet phoenix from his selfsame ashes. He may look like a "supporting" character to some, but that nuance is precisely what Sayles demands from his casts-- no over the top screen-hogging acting, but instead webs of characters speaking in real, complex, lines and with unfinished business not neatly resolved in 1 minute screen expositions. Huston isn't the center of this film and Sayles wants it so, I believe.

There are no caricatures in Sayles' characters; that makes his films, and particularly this one --in election year 2004-- so much more appealing in a time of hammy caricature. I strongly recommend this intelligent, sensitive, and respectful film and give it a "9".
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