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September 2004

By Julian Roman

Silver City

Distributor: Newmarket Film Group
Director: John Sayles
Producer: Maggie Renzi
Screenwriter: John Sayles
Cinematographer: Haskell Wexler & Edward Done
Composer: Mason Daring
Cast: Danny Huston, Chris Cooper, Richard Dreyfuss, Maria Bello, Daryl Hannah, Billy Zane, Kris Kristofferson, Michael Murphy, Sal Lopez, James Gammon, Tim Roth




John Sayles makes intelligent movies. He uses film media as statements about his beliefs, but does it in a subtle, entertaining way. The recent trend amongst filmmakers is to smash ideology over your head with confrontative tactics and disturbing imagery. These people need to watch Silver City and take some notes from the master. The film is an indictment against politicians, corporations, and journalists wrapped in the cloak of a murder mystery. It is so methodical, so intricately crafted, Sherlock Holmes would be impressed. Sayles leaves nothing unturned in Silver City. You get the message and are entertained throughout. He's the reigning king of independent film for the right reasons.

Dickie Pillager (Chris Cooper) is campaigning for governor of Colorado. The film opens up with him filming a commercial on a lake. He throws out a fishing line and inadvertently pulls up the body of a dead Mexican man. Dickie is incredibly dim witted and instantly hands over the situation to his rabid campaign manager, Chuck Raven (Richard Dreyfuss). He's convinced that someone is trying to sabotage Dickie's campaign. Chuck employs a private investigation agency to find out where the body came from. They mistakenly put Danny O'Brien (Danny Huston) on the case. O'Brien is a disgraced ex-journalist on a downward spiral in life. He's got a lot of problems, but is an excellent investigator. He uncovers a scheme that reaches the highest political office and involves the wealthiest men in the state. His prying does not go unnoticed and the case becomes dangerous.

Silver City has so much going on; it's hard to know where to start. On one hand, you have an incredibly complicated murder mystery involving a lot of characters. Then, in an interesting cinematic twist, Sayles intersperses Dickie Pillager's campaign commercials with the story. A lot of people that saw this film with me did not like the commercials cut into the film. They thought it dragged out the story and made the film boring. I disagree. Sayles is lampooning the entire concept of big money campaigns. The public is being inundated with false images of Dickie Pillager while he's mired in a scandalous murder investigation. Sayles is basically saying you can't believe what you're told. That you have to go out there and find the truth behind the message. It's all done in a satirical way that I found quite humorous.

Characters are the backbone of every John Sayles film. Silver City takes character development to the next level. Every character is explored. You know what motivates them, their history, and purpose in the story. It's a remarkable piece of writing. The actors do a great job too. Chris Cooper steals the show as Dickie Pillager. He's so dumb, so clueless, you have to like him. He's doing an outright imitation of George W. Bush and it's freaking hilarious. Danny Huston, with his goofy "Flock of Seagulls" haircut is the star of the film. He doesn't get top billing, but he's the lead actor and plays the part well. There are a lot of famous actors that have bit parts. They don't get as much screen time, but make their presence felt. Sayles gives every character fantastic dialogue. Put that in the hands of a capable actor and even a few scenes can be memorable.

Silver City is a thinking man's film. It's not escapism in any way. Don't watch Silver City if you want to relax after a hard day. It has an involved storyline that requires attention from the viewer. Watch it for excellent filmmaking and Sayles's political ideology. You may not agree with him, but he deserves respect for making a good movie.