187 – Silver City

While fishing during a political commercial during his campaign for governor, candidate Dickie Pilager hooks a dead body. Pilager’s manager, Chuck Raven hires Danny O’Brien to investigate, thinking an old enemy of Pilager is trying to sabotage the campaign. O’Brien soon finds out that the gig isn’t as easy as it looks, and soon he has more questions than suspects.

Director John Sayles’ jab at George Walker Bush and his political campaign comes off as lightweight fluff, particularly because Sayles’ scripts are usually so poignant and barbed. This one seems so defanged, it feels as if it originally aired as a made-for-television movie. At first, the viewer thinks he’s in for a treat of thinly veiled references to political glad-handing, the spoils system, and other double-dealings. But sadly, it’s just not meant to be. Sayles’ story is nothing more than a who-killed-so-and-so movie with politics as a (somewhat distant) background.

The movie’s biggest flaw, though, is in the casting of the lead role, O’Brien. Sayles chose Danny Huston, son of John, grandson of Walter, and half-brother of Anjelica. Huston has all of 18 credits on the Internet Movie Database, most of them minor roles. His lack of experience is sorely evident here; his character is at times annoying, charming, eager, and jaded. It’s as if Huston couldn’t quite decide how his character was supposed to react from scene to scene. As a result – and especially since he’s working for the proverbial bad guys from the beginning – the audience isn’t really sure whether they should be rooting for him or not. A sure bad omen for a film is a lead character about him the audience is at best ambivalent.

Another debit is the sheer quantity of characters; there are so many recognizable actors who have small roles that you tend to forget who they were the next time they appeared onscreen. In addition to Dreyfuss (who has a few scenes, and chews them up), Michael Murphy, Mary Kay Place, Daryl Hannah, James Gammon, Tim Roth, Miguel Ferrer, and Kris Kristofferson pop on and offscreen like hiccups. In a way, Silver City is more reminiscent of a Robert Altman movie than a John Sayles movie, except for the shorter running time.

I was never drawn into the mystery of the dead body, or the political machinations, or even the human aspect (Pilager is portrayed as dumb as a post), so for me the movie failed to deliver. Silver City was a real disappointment to me; in this day of skewering politicians, and considering Sayles’ usual crisp writing, it falls fall short of the mark. Impeach it.

Silver City: **

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