John Sayles films always seem to be a hit-or-miss thing for me. I either love them (Limbo, Casas de Los Babys, Men with Guns) or find them disappointing. I had a lot of hope for Silver City but ultimately, it was a very ambitious film that was packed full of ideas probably best fleshed out for a mini-series.
When Silver City begins, Dickie Pilager (Chris Cooper) is filming a photo-op campaign ad for his upcoming race for the governorship of Colorado. He’s at a lake, posing for fishing shots with his sleazy campaign manager, Chuck Raven (Richard Dreyfuss) when he lands a corpse. Terrified of bad publicity, Raven calls a halt to the shoot, and promptly hires P.I. Danny O’Brien (Danny Huston) to dig around to see if the body has been planted to deliberately sabotage the candidate. The rest of the film, more-or-less, is composed of O’Brien’s search for the identity of the dead man fished out from the lake.
Silver City is primarily a political satire–the character of the fumbling, inept Dickie Pilager is obviously supposed to be modeled on George Bush. And Chuck Raven is clearly supposed to be Karl Rove. But Sayles doesn’t stop there; these two characters are floating in a sea of corruption with lobbyists in bed with developers while the environment is ravaged with relish.
The film’s characterizations are bold but over-the-top. Tim Roth stars as underground journalist Mitch Paine, and Daryl Hannah emerges as the trust fund supported, archer Maddie Pilager in another exaggerated role. A plethora of characters are introduced to the plot without any context, so while certain transactions occur, their significance isn’t realized until several scenes later. The large number of characters, with a loose, rambling preposterous plot dilutes the film’s ultimate political message, and that is unfortunate. There is a certain heavy-handedness to the plot (no subtlety here) that leaves no room for speculation about motivation, the complexity of human nature, or rumination after the final credits roll. Instead the audience is spoon-fed a political position. Ironically, while I happen to agree with many things the film is trying to say (the ravaging of the environment, total corruption of the political system, etc), I do not enjoy a muddled, idea-driven film that shoves that opinion down my throat and leaves me no room for independent thinking.