Combustible Celluloid
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With: Danny Huston, Maria Bello, Chris Cooper, Richard Dreyfuss, Daryl Hannah, Kris Kristofferson, Billy Zane, Mary Kay Place, Miguel Ferrer, Sal Lopez, Tim Roth, Thora Birch, James Gammon, Michael Murphy, Alma Delfina, Charles Mitchell, Roslyn Washington, Cajardo Lindsey, David Clennon, Jan Van Sickle, Denis Berkfeldt, Luis Saguar
Written by: John Sayles
Directed by: John Sayles
MPAA Rating: R for language
Running Time: 128
Date: 08/27/2004

Silver City (2004)

3 Stars (out of 4)

Beating Around the Bush

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

Not unlike his excellent City of Hope (1991), John Sayles brings us another ensemble piece designed to reveal the many cogs in a corrupted political system. This time, though, he deliberately takes on one politician in particular: George W. Bush.

Sayles doesn't have much to say about terrorism or 9/11 or Iraq or tax cuts, though. He's going back to Bush's dubious beginnings as an untrained, unskilled Governor of Texas. In Silver City, another such untrained, unskilled politician's son is chosen to run for Governor of Colorado.

"Dickie" Pilager (Chris Cooper) has a hard time talking in front of people and doesn't seem to have any ideas of his own; he's actually rather childlike. At the beginning of the film, Dickie is in the middle of shooting a picturesque environmental ad when a dead body washes up on the nearby shore. Ruthless campaign manager Chuck Raven (Richard Dreyfuss) hires a former newspaperman turned private investigator, Danny O'Brien (Danny Huston), to find out what happened before it gets out.

From there, the film crosses over to many different storylines and characters, notably Danny's former girlfriend (Maria Bello) and her new beau, a sleazy lobbyist (Billy Zane). In one great scene, Danny visits the gubernatorial candidate's black sheep sister, Maddy (Daryl Hannah). Hannah practically steals the movie from Cooper, looking amazing but deadly and shooting arrows from a high-powered bow before luring Danny inside her rock 'n' roll den for a roll in the hay.

Miguel Ferrer turns up as a radical, right-wing radio DJ and Sal Lopez plays a Mexican-American chef who lends a hand to Danny doing some poking around within the immigrant community. He finds more than he bargained for, and powerful people begin to feel the need to cover up certain things.

Even if David loses to Goliath, Sayles gives us Mitch Paine (Tim Roth) and Karen Cross (Thora Birch) who run an underground, liberal website. Eventually the news will find its way into the real world the movie seems to tell us.

While Sayles fluidly handled the criss-crossing storylines in City of Hope, Silver City doesn't seem to be able to pull this off with the same accuracy. Certain plot bits get mowed down, and others begin to feel half-hearted or tacked on. They lack resonance or urgency. I'm thinking of those involving Kris Kristofferon's character, a right-wing developer, or Mary Kay Place as Danny's boss, or Michael Murphy as Pilager's father.

But in these troubled times, the film is very much worth seeing for Cooper's rendition of a puppet caught in a sinister political system, as well as for its memorable shocker of an ending.

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