Silver City


Reviewed by: The Exile

For 24 years now, John Sayles has been making movies about an America largely ignored by our corporate film industry, tirelessly giving voice to communities and problems too complex and too unsexy for Hollywood's ADD-afflicted green-lighters. Yet his preference for explosive dialogue over explosive devices, competent actors over pampered stars and plots that reflect difficult truths rather than multiplex formulas, have often distanced him from the very audiences he strives to represent.

His undeniable integrity and unimpeachable politics has occasionally caused critics (myself included) to treat his work more gently than it deserves. Dazzled by his frequently brilliant screenplays and uncommonly nuanced stories, it's easy to ignore, for example, Lone Star's lack of energy, or Sunshine State's failure to rouse our emotions. Sayles' words can be inspirational, but his images too often just sit there, inert, on the screen; and watching Silver City, an all-but-endless parade of expository conversations, I longed for some aesthetic daring, some inventive framing or unexpected camera angle, or just something that didn't look tired and washed-out. Which leads me to a sentence I never thought I was capable of writing about a John Sayles film: Silver City is a monumental bore.

There, I've said it, and before I'm dragged before the Indiewood Anti-Defamation League, at least let me explain. The story, for one thing, suffers from multiple-personality disorder. Draped loosely around the Colorado gubernatorial campaign of one Dickie Pilager (Chris Cooper), a dim-bulb candidate with strangely familiar plaid shirts and loony verbal stylings, the movie kicks off as a waterlogged corpse disturbs the shooting of a lakeside campaign commercial. Suspecting political sabotage, Pilager's campaign manager (a hyperthyroidal Richard Dreyfuss) hires disgraced-reporter-turned P.I. Danny O'Brien (Danny Huston) to find the saboteur.

Veering wildly from jokey political satire to murder mystery to water contamination scandal to anti-privatisation rant, Silver City toys with all and commits to none. Like Spike Lee's She Hate Me, the movie feels like a frantic attempt to bundle together as many issues as possible and get the damn thing released before the filmmaker's head explodes. In Lee's case, it was too late.

Leaden with obviousness (removing an 'l' from Pilager doesn't exactly qualify as subtlety), the film fields characters either too broad for the average soap (Kris Kristofferson as a good-ole-boy who wants to privatize the entire Rocky Mountains), or too quirky for an Owen Wilson screenplay (Tim Roth as a creepy blogger hiding out in a dark room like a malevolent mushroom). There's even a limp romance, as Danny's investigation leads him to his ex-lover (Maria Bello), still tending the flame though she knows his professional obsessions make him No Good For Her.

Perhaps a too-earnest political message does not suit Sayles' filming technique. Though some of the best scenes deal with the exploitation of immigrant labour, it's also true that his movies have become increasingly drab affairs, his stiff, unimaginative camerawork. The rapturous visuals of The Secret Of Roan Inish and Limbo - romantic, mysterious films about love and family and belief in the impossible - are clearly the work of someone more intent on seduction than persuasion.

Thank goodness for Daryl Hannah. After surviving the last 15 years on gruel like Grumpier Old Men and Speedway Junky, the gorgeous colt of Splash and Roxanne has been transformed by Sayles and Tarantino into a blond Lucy Lawless. Here, she's a sexually aggressive single mom with dreams of an Olympic medal in archery. Staring at Danny down the business end of an arrow, jaw set and sinews snapping like jumper cables, Hannah is as exotic as Diana sighting a stag. If only Sayles had left the persuading to her.

Reviewed on: 22 May 2005
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Part murder mystery, part political rant, John Sayles goes looking for trouble in Colorado.
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Director: John Sayles

Writer: John Sayles

Starring: Chris Cooper, Richard Dreyfuss, Cajardo Lindsey, John C Ashton, Elizabeth Rainer, Daryl Hannah, Thora Birch, Donevon Martinez, James Gammon, Danny Huston, Tim Roth

Year: 2004

Runtime: 129 minutes

BBFC: 15 - Age Restricted

Country: US


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