Silver City Movie Review

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What are they using on the moviemaking plantation this election year to have produced such a bumper crop of Democrat-leaning political films? The fertile harvest may have something to do with outright fear of a Bush win in November. Or, determination to clarify the issues for swing voters still formulating their judgments.

Now, after Michael Moore's Fahrenheit 9/11, Robert Greenwald's Uncovered: The War on Iraq, France's The World According to Bush, the upcoming Bush's Brain, and many more, filmmaker John Sayles adds his satiric shovelful with Silver City, a (fictional) feature film which explores the ramifications of a political system that lends itself to corrupt and unseemly influences.

The film is aesthetically all over the place: sleep-inducing expository scenes (most of those with Tim Roth, for some reason), classy flashes of performance and character (most of those with Maria Bello and one with fetching Thora Birch), platitudes and caricature (most of those with Richard Dreyfuss and Billy Zane), mixed in with missed opportunities for stylish drama because of pedestrian staging. But Chris Cooper's performance as the inept candidate -- styled on George W. Bush, down to his mental tendency toward verbal destruction -- is the reason the film has to be seen.

Which may be a difficult sell. The critics aren't raving and this may turn out to be a low altitude attainment on the Sayles monument of film, but it won't be because of the weaknesses enumerated above. Its failure on pure moviemaking criteria has more to do with the actor chosen for the lead character: Taking us through the players and malefactors in the exposé of a politically corrupt land grab and an overconfident campaign that begins with the discovery of a dead body is ex-reporter Danny O'Brien (Danny Huston), now employed as an investigator for a political P.I. firm led by hard-as-putty Grace Seymour (Mary Kay Place).

Huston is nice and affable, and candidate Pilager's estranged daughter Maddy (Daryl Hannah) thinks he's cute, and this is backed up by the assertion that he's the ex of gorgeous reporter Nora Allardyce (Bello). But leading man material? Where's the dynamism of Jude Law, Matt Damon, or Will Smith? Has Sayles abandoned all hope of putting together a commercial success? Did no one advise him that Huston, who played "hotel manager" in Hotel and "herdsman" in The Bacchae (don't ask me!) was entrusted with too much?

Everyone involved gives it their all, and this includes a stellar ensemble cast with the likes of Miguel Ferrer, Kris Kristofferson, Michael Murphy, the salty James Gammon, and an energetic moment with Ralph Waite. Sayles fans will not want to miss his latest quirky venture but Democrats most of all will not want to miss this contribution to the campaign.

The DVD adds a making-of featurette plus a commentary from Sayles and producer Maggie Renzi.

Silver City? I thought we were going to Gold City!

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Silver City Rating

" Weak "

Rating: R, 2004

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