Silver City
R E V I E W   B Y   R I C H   C L I N E dir-scr John Sayles
with Danny Huston, Chris Cooper, Richard Dreyfuss, Maria Bello, Daryl Hannah, Tim Roth, Billy Zane, Mary Kay Place, Sal Lopez, Ralph Waite, Kris Kristofferson, Thora Birch
release US 17.Sep.04, UK 22.Jul.05
04/US Newmarket 2h09

Pulling the strings: Dreyfuss, Zane and Cooper

huston bello hannah

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Silver City Sayles' latest sprawling community saga wraps a gripping murder mystery around a rather unsubtle political satire. It's both entertaining and urgent, but far too comprehensive--and obvious--for its own good.

Senator's son Richard Pilager (Cooper), "Dim Dickie" to his handlers, is running for Colorado governor. When a body is discovered in a lake where he's filming a TV spot, his astute campaign director (Dreyfuss) hires investigator Danny O'Brien (Huston) to check out a few enemies. But Danny's journalistic background gets him asking questions--whose body is it, why was he killed, and how is it that this clownish candidate looks likely to win the election?

Clearly, Sayles is trying to crystallise his feelings about George W Bush, but the parallels are so blatant that the film feels like a parody whenever Cooper is on screen. The way he talks to the press is too familiar--drifting off script to get increasingly lost in his own internal logic, then retreating to political buzzwords. Cooper plays this brilliantly, but it distracts us from the important central storyline. And Sayles doesn't help matters by refusing to quicken the pace, including so many peripheral characters and trying to say something about every aspect of every issue.

Fortunately the central mystery is compelling and meaningful, and the film knowingly addresses urgent issues such as political manipulation, hollow "family values", corporate greed, environmental destruction and the way society encourages and exploits illegal immigrants. The actors throw themselves into their roles with abandon. In addition to Cooper, Hannah is the standout with a bracingly askew turn as Pilager's rebellious sister. Both Dreyfuss and Zane are superb as fast-talking movers and shakers, and Huston holds it all together well in the thankless hero role.

As always, Sayles gets the setting just right, capturing the overwhelming natural beauty and local culture in a way that feels utterly matter-of-fact. He has some great things to say in this film--things that need to be debated and confronted. But it would have been so much more effective if he'd concentrated on getting the plot into lean, racy shape ... and let the politics speak for themselves.

cert 15 themes, language 19.May.05

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2005 by Rich Cline, Shadows on the Wall