Silver City
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Election season is always great for comedians and satirists. Politicians are such easy targets, so it's not surprising that the candidates become nightly subjects for monologues on The Tonight Show and Late Night with David Letterman. Without the constant reminders from comedians to not take election season so seriously, the presidential campaign might become too pathetic and depressing to bear.

John Sayles' Silver City now enters this fray, with its finely crafted parody. Chris Cooper portrays a politician from Colorado who constantly fumbles for the right words. His own father, Colorado's venerable Senator Jud Pilager (portrayed by Michael Murphy), says Dicky never cared much for reading, but as we're told early in the film by the editor of an alternative news Web site, Dicky Pilager is the real thing. Unlike so many other politicians who simply say whatever they think will get them elected -- without any concern whatsoever for truth -- Dicky really believes what he says. Of course, his ideas aren't strictly his own. His ideas are planted by people with deep pockets, such as a multi-millionaire businessman named Wes Benteen (played by Kris Kristofferson) who believes all publicly held land, such as national parks and national forests, should be sold to private citizens. Benteen imparts his wisdom to Pilager during horseback rides, and then Pilager parrots back the wisdom as necessary on the campaign trail.

Sayles takes a softer approach here than Michael Moore did in Fahrenheit 9/11. He doesn't claim that his politician -- clearly based on George W. Bush -- is both a fool and a guiding architect of a scheme to line the pockets of the wealthy with Arab oil money. No, Sayles' candidate is just a fool. A well-meaning fool, yes. But a fool just the same.

The satire here is sharp and wicked, but surprisingly Pilager isn't the main character of this drama. He's an important character, yes, and the movie returns to him every now and then for an hilarious display of incompetence, as when Pilager attempts to field questions from a group of reporters by delivering bizarre non sequitor responses; however, the main character is actually a detective played by Danny Huston (the son of legendary director John Huston and brother of actress Angelica Huston).

Unfortunately, Huston has such an insignificant presence that he hardly exists at all. He seems like a nice guy, but his cockeyed smile suggests a lightness of character. After a few minutes with him, I kept wondering when the real lead character would step forward, but the focus remains on Huston. He plays a detective who has been hired by Pilager's campaign manager, Chuck Raven (Richard Dreyfuss), to deliver warnings/threats to three people suspected of attempting to undermine Dicky's candidacy for governor. This warning is intended to scare away anyone who might be attempting to undermine Pilager's campaign. In the process of delivering these warnings, however, Huston stumbles upon information that involves murder and the illegal dumping of toxic waste.

What makes this slim detective yarn tolerable is the bevy of supporting faces, such as Daryl Hannah as Dicky Pilager's sister (the black sheep of the Pilager family), Thora Birch as a Web journalist, Richard Dreyfuss as Pilager's pit-bull-like campaign manager, Tim Roth as the editor of an alternative news Web site, Billy Zane as a political lobbyist, and Mary Kay Place as Huston's boss. However, while the familiar faces might help compensate for Huston's meager screen presence, they also tend to become a distraction, as the movie frequently becomes a game of identifying the stars.

Nonetheless, Silver City is frequently good fun, especially when Chris Cooper is on the screen. Maybe if the movie had spent more time focusing on Dicky Pilager, rather than drifting around the perimeter of his campaign, Sayles might have delivered a new satire worthy of comparison with Robert Altman's Tanner '88. However, by diverting the focus onto a rather inconsequential detective drama, with an equally inconsequential romantic subplot involving Huston's old girlfriend (played by Maria Bello), Sayles has delivered a pleasant comedy with all the weight of an election-year campaign promise.

[rating: 2.5 of 4 stars]

Distributor Web site: Newmarket Films
Movie Web site: Silver City



Photos: © 2004 Newmarket Films. All rights reserved.