Silver City, a mystery story charged with timely political implications, focuses on a Colorado gubernatorial campaign by an inarticulate candidate named Dick Pilager, played by the always convincing Chris Cooper. While filming a TV-ad showing the candidate fishing in a beautiful Colorado lake, Pilager hooks a corpse. Who is the dead man, how did he die, who’s responsible for his death, and what impact will this have on Pilager’s campaign? Those are the questions explored in Silver City -- but the overriding theme is corruption of the political process by powerful corporations and wealthy individuals.
Like all movies written and directed by John Sayles (Sunshine State), this is an ambitious film bubbling over with provocative issues. Unfortunately, it features too many characters, so I didn’t get to know most of them well enough to care about them. Still, there are some performance gems here -- by Cooper and supporting actors Kris Kristofferson, Daryl Hannah and Sal Lopez in particular. Cooper (Seabiscuit) comes across as an amusing combination of George W. Bush and Dan Quail. He transforms himself completely into a politician who “isn’t much of a print man” and struggles to find the right words during his press conferences.
Kristofferson (Lone Star) lends an aura of authority to Wes Benteen, the kingmaker behind Pilager’s campaign. Benteen has no trouble persuading Pilager to support his plans for privatizing the state’s remaining resources -- a fact made quite clear as the two converse while horseback riding through Benteen’s vast Colorado estate. (Aside: Kristofferson sits a horse well. When I mentioned this to him, he replied, “Riding a horse is the least of my problems as an actor.”)
Hannah (Kill Bill: Vol 2) appears in too few scenes, but she nails Maddy Pilager, the candidate’s wayward sister, perfectly. My husband, an avid Hannah fan, admits he's happy the camera didn’t shy away from showcasing her physical assets, especially during those archery practice sessions. Personally, I think Hannah’s acting improves with each film -- and, in Silver City, she endows Maddy with a poignant vulnerability that shines through all her wild behavior.
Although appearing in a small role, Lopez (Selena) makes the most of it. His Tony Guerra, a chef hired to help uncover local exploitation of undocumented migrant workers, emerges as the most genuine Silver City character. This fine actor, a veteran of 40 films and TV productions, deserves bigger roles.
Others in the huge cast don’t fare as well. Danny Huston (21 Grams), playing the investigator assigned to find out about the Hispanic corpse in the lake, fails to elicit much empathy for his character. The usually terrific Maria Bello (The Cooler), as a gutsy reporter trying to get straight answers from Pilager during his press exchanges, pops in and out of scenes and appears less than enthusiastic about her role. Richard Dreyfuss (An American President), who portrays Pilager’s campaign manager, shouts practically every line of dialogue, and I couldn’t understand a word uttered by Tim Roth (Planet of the Apes) whose character operates an underground website with lots of information about the Benteen/Pilager connection.
Keeping track of the many Silver City actors and their characters presents quite a challenge. Look at this list of people I haven’t even mentioned yet: Mary Kay Place, Michael Murphy, David Clennon, James Gannon, Billy Zane, Thora Birch, Miguel Ferrer, Ralph Waite. Well, you see what I mean.
Coming to grips with the numerous issues Sayles raises in this movie also boggles the mind. Environmental pollution, media manipulation, political corruption, labor exploitation, questionable law enforcement and land development practices -- each is serious enough to merit a movie of its own with a solution or two thrown in to inspire us.
Despite a few funny moments, Silver City is definitely not a feel-good movie. In fact, I’m still depressed thinking about its final disturbing image. But at least I’m thinking -- which is exactly what Sayles wants viewers to do.
(Released by Newmarket Films and rated “R” for language.)